January 10, 2002

India A surprise seniors under lights at Bangalore

The Hero-Honda Challenger Trophy 2002 threw up a result that can only be described as good for Indian cricket at large when India `A' beat the India Seniors team by two wickets with almost two overs to spare. The opening match of the tournament threw up some strong performances, none more so than the one from Yuvraj Singh, who notched up the only half-century of the match, playing a leading role in his team's triumph.

When Sourav Ganguly won the toss and elected to bat first, he would have been more than a little surprised at the pace and bounce that the wicket at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium afforded. Only recently, the same ground provided a more gentle wicket for the Test match against the touring England side. With the ball moving a bit in the air and cutting off the wicket, batsmen were made to feel uncomfortable every time the seamers bowled a good line and length.

Trying to work his way out of a dreadful patch in the longer version of the game, Ganguly failed, making just 2 before falling to Daniel Manohar. Deep Dasgupta (10) and Virender Sehwag (4) followed their captain back to the pavilion and India seniors were in trouble at 64/4.

Hemang Badani, fighting to make his way back into the national side, struggled early on. The southpaw did not move his feet nearly as fluently as he usually does and was lucky to survive a confident shout for lbw early on. However, Badani calmed his nerves and soon began to time the ball sweetly. In the company of Jacob Martin, Badani notched up 41 (36 balls, 4 fours, 1 six) and took India seniors on to 126/5 in the 28th over before falling to Sarandeep Singh.

A flurry of wickets suggested that the seniors side might fold up without playing out the 50 overs available to them. A cameo from Sunil Joshi (25) and the wholesome thumping of Harbhajan Singh (36 runs, 42 balls, 1 four, 3 sixes) saw the team notch up 229, a total that looked at best unlikely till it was achieved.

The selectors present at the venue had a good chance to look at the players strutting their stuff and would have been impressed by more than one performance. With the ball for India A, Ajit Agarkar was nippy, getting the ball to skid through nicely in the course of his haul of 2/32. Sarandeep Singh too reminded the selectors that he was hot on Harbhajan Singh's heels with a return of 3/36.

It was India A who came together well on the day, teaching the India seniors side a lesson or two. Chasing the target of 230, the India A side struggled, threatened to throw it away towards the end but held on for a valuable victory.

Hyderabad's Daniel Manohar beginning patchily, playing and missing more than once, scored 37 at the top of the order, to add to his three-wicket haul. Manohar truly had a memorable game. After the fall of skipper VVS Laxman's wicket with the score on 83, two more quick wickets fell. Manohar was cleaned up by a Bangar in-dipper and Rohan Gavaskar (4) gloved a short ball from Ganguly to the hands of Deep Dasgupta behind the stumps.

Then came the phase of the game that steadied the India A innings. Yuvraj Singh, judiciously mixing caution with aggression, restated his claim for higher honours with a sprightly innings of 55 (77 balls, 6 fours). In the past, there have been innumerable occasions where the strong left-hander had got good starts, appeared in command, only to throw his wicket away. That certainly wasn't the case today. When the ball was there to be hit, Yuvraj gave it a fair whack, but did not make a serious error till the ball that dismissed him. Losing his concentration after reaching his half-century the Punjab lad flirted with a Tinu Yohannan delivery outside the off, managing only to edge the ball through to the wicket-keeper.

Ajit Agarkar (11) fell to a rash stroke at an inopportune moment soon after Yuvraj Singh's dismissal, but India A were close enough to the target by that stage for the tail-enders to complete the job, something they duly did.

If nothing else, the game will serve as a good wake up call to the India seniors side in this tournament.