Top order stars as Blues storm into final
Virender Sehwag's prediction after winning the toss was spot on: India Blue racked up a mountain of runs, sparked by Sehwag's 57-ball 75, and the spinners turned it on under the Motera lights to storm into the final of the Challenger Trophy. Parthiv Patel dazzled briefly but a succession of wickets jolted the prospect of a thrilling run-chase, as the Greens, attempting to chase down a target of 331 in 40 overs to qualify for the final, fell short by 91 runs.
For the second day in a row India Green's scarce bowling options were exposed as Sehwag, Arjun Yadav, Suresh Raina and Dinesh Karthik made merry on a flat Ahmedabad track. Sehwag backed his decision to bat with a blistering innings: no bowler was spared as Sehwag cashed in during the first and second Powerplays, hitting 14 boundaries and a six .
With Sehwag in such an attacking mood, Parthiv didn't a chance taking the third Powerplay, but as soon as Sehwag backed away a straighter one from Iqbal Abdullah and lost his leg stump, the Greens captain took it. The run-rate dipped just slightly during those five overs, but Yadav and Raina made sure to up the tempo again with an 85-run stand. Both used their feet to the spinners and relied on the width from the medium-pacers.
In what was otherwise evidence of the Greens' scarce bowling resources, Manoj Tiwary was brought on to bowl his legspinners in the 31st over and was successful in getting rid of Yadav, who miscued a short delivery pitched outside leg to midwicket. Raina, after a crucial 92 in the series opener, hardly batted an eyelid as he raced to his 64 from 51 balls before slapping a long hop from Piyush Chawla to Tiwary at midwicket.
Dinesh Karthik, who recently told Cricinfo that he could bat at any number , slammed his first delivery for four and raced past his fifty - amid news of his axing from the Indian side - to get the Blues past 300.
A canny Joginder Sharma nipped out the Green openers in no time before Parthiv and Rohit Sharma cashed in on the second Powerplay, driving and cutting boundaries exceptionally. Anything even fractionally short and wide was pounced upon by Rohit, whose firm back-foot play was pleasing on the eye, while Parthiv whipped trademark boundaries with ease.
As long as Parthiv was smashing the ball around the Greens appeared in with a slim shot, but his dismissal for 53, run out by a Joginder direct-hit from deep midwicket as he attempted a suicidal second, dented the side's chances. Sharma kept up the momentum with a leant-in straight six off Saurabh Bandekar and seemed certain for more before he was smartly stumped by Karthik off a Ramesh Powar wide down the leg side.
Tiwary was left to steer a sinking ship but after spanking a couple of boundaries even he couldn't cope with the pressure, making room to hit Powar and losing his leg stump. The two experienced spinners, Powar and Amit Mishra, shared six wickets and with Abhishek Nayar and Cheteshwar Pujara falling cheaply, the Greens lower order flayed the bat around in desperation. Raina picked up the final wicket as Munaf Patel slogged into the deep, sparking wild celebrations among the Blues.
With the highest total of this year's competition, and their spinners turning in a second successful evening on a flat track, the Blues made the best of the occasion. They've already defeated the Reds, and are through to the final courtesy a bonus point from their 88-run win over the Greens. But the final will be minus the incentive of national selection.
Jamie Alter is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo