January 11, 2002

Sehwag, Badani script sensational seniors triumph

It was a case of the power and panache of Virender Sehwag against the steady, solid batting of Dinesh Mongia. As it turned out, a Sehwag-inspired India seniors team was more than capable of handling India B powered by Mongia. On the back of Sehwag's sparkling 125, India seniors reached the target of 289 set for them, in 39.5 overs with 5 wickets in hand. India seniors, humbled in the tournament opener by India A, managed to avoid a repeat. Not before they were given quite a few scares though.

The lights at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium seem to foster a run-scoring appetite that bodes ill for bowlers. On winning the toss and electing to bat first, India B found that the pitch had eased up considerably since the first day, losing a lot of its pace and bounce. Their batsmen made merry, despite losing opener Sridharan Sriram (5) with just 12 runs on the board. Dinesh Mongia and Mohammed Kaif got together for the kind of partnership that keeps the pair permanently in the national reckoning.

Kaif, thought by many to be an ideal replacement for Mohammed Azharuddin for his wristy technique, has often played innings of high class at the domestic level. The lad has a cool head on his shoulders and proved today that he could make runs at a good pace when needed. Flicking off his pads and cutting well when offered width, Kaif made 61 (76 balls, 5 fours, 1 six) before being dismissed by Sourav Ganguly.

Mongia in the meantime was growing in confidence and did not seem at all perturbed that the 136 run-partnership he shared with Kaif was broken. With every passing over the left-hander's confidence and timing grew. Chipping the ball over the infield with ease, Mongia demonstrated his touch when he walked into a Harbhajan Singh delivery and flicked India's premier offie straight back over his head for a six. Mongia, who has a reputation for making tall scores in domestic cricket, took India B on to 229 in the 42nd over before holing out in the deep off Harbhajan. Mongia's 131 (139 balls, 12 fours, 2 sixes) put India B well on target for a high score.

Vijay Bharadwaj (24) and Pankaj Dharmani (27) both scored at a run a ball and India B managed 288 in 50 overs. For not completing their overs in the allotted time, the India seniors side was docked three overs.

Thanks to Sehwag, dubbed the `poor man's Tendulkar' those three missing overs did not come into the picture at all.

Set to score 289 at over six runs an over, India seniors began disastrously. Sourav Ganguly's shocking run of form continued and he departed before the scorers were made to sweat. India's captain made just 1. Emulating the captain of the team is often a good thing, but occasionally the last thing you want to do. On the day, it was the latter, regrettably so, for Shiv Sunder Das (9) and pinch hitter Sunil Joshi (5).

Das ducked awkwardly into a bouncer from Nehra and looked rather silly when the resulting catch was snapped up by the close-in fielder. The case of Joshi is intriguing. The left-arm spinner, who has not enjoyed the confidence of his captain, was given just one over to bowl and then asked come in at one drop. It seems a bit of an injustice playing him if he is going to be treated in this manner.

But leave all that behind for a moment. From 37/3 Sehwag and Hemang Badani showed the India B team why some are international heroes while others remain wannabes in second string teams. Sehwag was completely at ease with the India B spinners and seamers alike, tearing them to shreds whenever he was given a bit of width. At the other end Badani was sensible enough to keep the scoreboard ticking over, not attempting anything extravagant.

The left and right-handed combination threw the bowlers well out of step, and it was exactly what Sehwag wanted. As the frequency of loose deliveries increased, Sehwag attempted more and more extravagant strokes - with remarkable success. No bowler was spared as the cover was taken off the ball in a fearsome display of hitting. Trademark cut shots that left fielders standing dotted the wagon wheel, while spinners found that Sehwag favoured the sections of stands behind their heads. When Sehwag (125 runs, 92 balls, 17 fours, 2 sixes) nicked a Sanjay Pandey delivery through to the keeper the fielders heaved a collective sigh of relief. And before they could recover Badani was in overdrive.

Quickly shifting the pace of his batting up several gears Badani went after the seamers soon after Sehwag's exit. After playing a classy cut shot that best showcased his silken touch, Badani smacked Pandey over mid on in an audacious pull for six that fans from Bangalore will remember for a long time. After doing all the hard work, Badani (77 runs, 65 balls, 7 fours, 1 six) fell to a lazy chip shot against Kumble that only found Amit Bhandari at long on.

Jacob Martin played some impressive drives in the course of his 28 and India seniors reached 289 in less than 40 overs. In doing so they picked up an extra bonus point and have virtually booked themselves a place in the final.