~~A~~ team pips India Seniors in opening match

Published: Tuesday, October 11, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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Mohali:It was a night of the young guns as India 'A' upstaged the star-studded India Seniors to clinch a nail-biting one-wicket win in the opening limited overs cricket match of the NKP Salve Challenger Series at the PCA Stadium here today.

Faced with a challenging target of 290, the 'A' team, led by V V S Laxman and comprising of the second best in Indian cricket, romped home with two balls to spare to pull off a memorable upset in the floodlit encounter.

The 'A' team's chase centred around no single big knock but a collection of valuable contributions including from their captain Laxman (48) and Hemang Badani (46).

Laxman and Badani shared a 66-run stand for the fourth wicket from 86 balls but the team still needed the cameo knocks of Niraj Patel (37), Dinesh Kaarthick (26), Ramesh Powar (15) and V R V Singh (25 no) to see them home.

Needing 90 runs of the last 12 overs, the 'A' team kept chipping away through some hearty performances from the lower order.

With nine runs required off the last six balls, the underdogs came through with Rudra Pratap Singh (11 not out) hitting two fours off Zaheer Khan.

The man of the match though was the losing team's Y Venugopala Rao who narrowly missed out on a fine century after playing an enterprising innings that laid the foundation for the Seniors' total.

The hype surrounding Sachin Tendulkar's return to competitive cricket turned out to be a damp squib with the maestro's innings lasting only 15 balls while some of the other star performers also failed to deliver with bat and ball.

Perhaps the strain of recent turn of events was showing but while the international stars struggled some of the sparkling moments of the day came from the aspiring youngsters.

The 23-year-old Rao hit a 99-ball 98 that helped the Seniors overcome a sluggish start and the cheap dismissal of Tendulkar who was returning after a five-month injury lay off in the floodlit match.

Rao shared a 105-run stand for the seventh wicket with Ajit Agarkar who produced a cameo half century of his own to provide the Seniors the 'final kick' towards their closing stages.

Agarkar's 54 came from 42 balls and contained three fours and a six.

Rao's knock overshadowed a fine 50 by local hero Yuvraj Singh who was instrumental in guiding the recovery after the Seniors had slumped to 70 for three at one stage.

Yuvraj added 79 runs for the fourth wicket with Rao as he laid the foundation for a big total before succumbing to his attacking instincts.

Rudra Pratap Singh was economical for India 'A' while India seamer Laxmipathy Balaji was the most expensive with two for 76.

The 'A' team was off to a great start with Gautam Gambhir and Dheeraj Jadhav taking the Seniors' new ball bowlers Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan head on.

Although the two openers' innings were nipped in the bud, the momentum they provided was strong enough to bring the 100 in 16 overs.

Pathan's first six overs cost 37 runs while Zaheer went for 40 runs from his six.

Laxman then took over the entertainer's mantle, hitting his trademark off drives, and the captain's free fluent knock relieved the pressure off Badani who had come back into the India reckoning after more than a year's gap.

The Tamil Nadu left hander however did not take long to come into his own.

But the promising partnership was cut short when the two went for a cheeky singles and wicketkeeper Dhoni's quick pick and throw found Laxman well short of the crease at the bowler's end.

The fourth-wicket stand between Laxman and Badani was worth 66 runs off 86 balls.

Laxman, made captain in the shorter version of the game despite being in an out of the international side, might have failed to make the most of the opportunity but Badani did just enough to leave another 'forget me not' note to the selectors.

The 28-year old handled the two of country's leading spinners Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik with assurance. But just when it seemed to have set himself up for a big knock, Badani played a wild sweep at the Punjab off-spinner and lost his off stump.

At 200 for five in the 39th over, India 'A' were left with a daunting required rate of more than eight runs an over.

Dinesh Kaarthick displayed the exuberance that had been missing from the 'A' team batting till then. After coming down the wicket to loft Harbhajan for a six-over long off, Kaarthick struck two successive boundaries off Kartik, one over midwicket and the next and inside-out shot over the cover, to take the fight to the Seniors' camp.

But then he fended at a rising delivery from Pathan to be caught behind and when Niraj Patel was run out to a direct throw by Yuvraj at the same score of 234, the pendulum had swung in the Seniors' side.

Ramesh Powar and V R V Singh however sustained the challenge with some gutsy and innovative batting.

When Powar fell in the penultimate over after adding vital 33 runs off 27 balls, the 'A' was left with nine runs from the last over.

A two and an edged four to third man from Rudra Pratap Singh's bat reduced the target to three from three and the number 11 batsman slammed Zaheer Khan to long fence to bring up the victory.

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