RP Singh swings Central to victory
Central Zone 239 for 3 (Ojha 110, Fazal 66) beat North Zone 223 (Sehwag 81, Kaul 55, RP Singh 5-36) by 70 runs
The Central Zone batsmen, led by a century from Naman Ojha, set up an interesting chase of 294 for a strong North Zone batting line-up, but RP Singh killed the contest with three wickets in his first over. North couldn't recover and lost by 70 runs despite Virender Sehwag's 73-ball 81. RP finished with 5 for 36.
RP got Shikhar Dhawan to tickle one down the leg side, and then produced two classical swing bowler's dismissals: Gautam Gambhir went for a drive and edged to third slip while Rajat Bhatia was bowled, done in by the movement. Overs two, runs 0, wickets three. In his third over, RP trapped Aakash Chopra lbw with another inswinger to reduce North to 12 for 4.
Sehwag then launched an assault, as clever as it was brutal, which overshadowed Ojha's innings. Sandeep Singh was the first to face Sehwag's barrage, in the ninth over, in the shape of an upper-cut followed by a pull to midwicket. Praveen Kumar, impressive till then, saw his figures of 4-1-10-0 get messed up, going for 28 in his next two. Sehwag's batting was clearly of a higher standard than what most Central's bowlers are used to. His six off Praveen was a case in point: with no footwork, bending the knees a bit, he launched him over cow corner.
Even after Virat Kohli got out, Sehwag continued in the same vein, treating the spinners with disdain. He got a perfect partner in Uday Kaul, who rotated the strike well, as the duo kept the asking-rate in check. When Mohammad Kaif brought back Sandeep in the 27th over, the two had added 86 in 88 balls. The first ball took the edge and went over wicketkeeper Ojha, who dropped a chance two balls later, but on the fifth ball Sandeep got Sehwag lbw with one that jagged back in.
Kaul, with the help of a cameo from Amit Mishra, continued the good work, but it proved too stiff a target. Kaul fell to Suresh Raina for a 75-ball 55, and Mishra scored 43 off 39.
Earlier, Ojha and Faiz Fazal gave Central an ideal start, putting on 163 for the first wicket in 29.5 overs. It was Ojha who converted a watchful start into an explosive one when he tucked into the first-change Bhatia. Ojha plundered 21 from Bhatia's two overs, with one six and three boundaries, and forced Sehwag to bring back Pradeep Sangwan who had been erratic in his first three overs. Sangwan was also not spared with Ojha punishing anything loose. In the 18th over, Ojha reached his half-century, hitting seven boundaries and a six, in 52 balls. At the other end, Punjab's medium-pacer Manpreet Gony bowled a controlled spell and kept the runs down, giving away only 12 runs in his first five overs.
By the time spinners were introduced from either end, after the Powerplays, both batsmen were well set. Ojha hit Mishra for a six dead straight and Fazal, having grown in confidence, went after Sehwag. Fazal accelerated after a slow start, and in the 24th over he reached his half-century off 75 balls. When he got out in the 30th over, for 66 off 93 balls, Central were set for a big total.
Ojha started to show signs of fatigue and was slowing down while running between the wickets. But No. 3 Suresh Raina didn't let that hurt the progress and scored briskly. He hit five boundaries in his 39-ball 42 before mishitting a pull off Sangwan to fine leg.
Mohammad Kaif, who came in to replace Raina, did not get as much strike as he would have wanted, and with Ojha not being able to hit the big shots, the expected onslaught didn't come. Ojha got out soon after reaching his century, in the 46th over, and Praveen failed to either hit the big shots or give Kaif the strike. Ultimately, the failure to maximise the score in the slog overs didn't matter, but it would have given them some anxious moments when Sehwag was around.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo