India B win easily after Dravid century carries them to 338
India B 338 for 5 (Dravid 107, Agarkar 57, Bharadwaj 41*) beat India Seniors 275 for 7 (Bangar 63, Badani 62*, Sodhi 51) by 63 runs
Rahul Dravid and Ajit Agarkar take a breather in their 136-run partnership © AFP
Hemang Badani and Sanjay Bangar's fiesty sixth-wicket partnership of 113 in 100 balls kept the game alive a little longer than expected, but in the end, India Seniors fell short of India's B's total of 338 by 63 runs, and were eliminated from the competition. Sourav Ganguly lost his second successive match a few hours after losing his second successive toss, and he had mainly his national team vice-captain to thank for this. Rahul Dravid's 107 off 97 balls was an innings of the highest quality, and once Dravid had propelled India B to 338, there was no way back for India Seniors.
A flat belter of a pitch such as this can often diminish the gap between international stalwarts and domestic wannabes, but Dravid's magnificent performance stood out from everything else that happened in the day for its sheer class. Dravid came in to bat with score on 65 for 2, and after a period of nurdling singles and consolidating the innings, took the bowling by the scruff of its neck. His driving and cutting was majestic, and he grabbed the momentum of the game and never let it go. Partnerships of 136 off 131 balls with Ajit Agarkar and 54 in 52 balls with Yuvraj Singh gave India B a perfect platform for the final assault, and their later batsmen hustled superbly at the end to reach 338.
India B were aided by some profligate bowling by India Seniors, especially with the new ball. Zaheer Khan and L Balaji were both wayward, as indicated by this shocking statistic: only seven of the first 29 runs came off the bat. India Seniors bowled a whopping 50 extras in all. Bangar and Murali Kartik bowled intelligently in the middle of the innings, but Reetinder Sodhi, Sourav Ganguly and Amit Mishra were all smashed out of the attack.
India B had appeared, before the tournament began, to be the weakest team on paper, but their batsmen batted sensibly, supporting Dravid well. SS Das made a fluent 33 off 43, and Ajit Agarkar, sent in at No. 3 ostensibly to pinch-hit, batted with the composure of a regular batsman to make 57. Yuvraj (30 off 39), Vijay Bharadwaj (41 off 29) and JP Yadav (16 off 13) played spirited cameos to take the team past 300.
India Seniors began badly, with the much-hyped Ambati Rayudu out early for 4. Rayudu was reluctant - or unable - to get on the back foot, and he was stepping forward to everything short of length. He was compounding this shortcoming by flashing at anything that was wide, and Agarkar set him up by bowling short and wide to him repeatedly till he slashed one to SS Das at slip (11 for 1).
Parthiv Patel, who opened with Rayudu, stroked the ball well, cutting Amit Bhandari to the fence twice, besides driving him to the straight boundary. His footwork was minimal, but his hand-eye co-ordination was excellent, as was his balance. He was eventually out for 30, off 29 balls, cutting Bhandari uppishly to Yuvraj at point (49 for 2).
Sodhi, who had been mysteriously promoted to No. 3, and Ganguly now began the key partnership of the game. They consolidated well, adding 70 off 71 balls, of which Ganguly made a run-a-ball 25. Sodhi, who otherwise focussed on nurdling singles, had a fascinating battle with Sarandeep Singh. He stepped out to Sarandeep a number of times, hitting him for two huge sixes over the straight boundary and deep midwicket, and cover-drove him once for four. India B eventually broke through when Ganguly decided to enter the fray, stepping out to Sarandeep and missing the ball. Thilak Naidu completed an easy stumping (119 for 3).
Sodhi (51) and VVS Laxman (18 off 25) followed soon after, which brought together two men who had made fifties in the last game, and were known for their composure under pressure. Badani and Bangar batted superbly to take India Seniors past 250, but with the asking-rate rising constantly through their time at the crease together, the match was effectively over well before the partnership was. Badani played scrappily for much of his innings. He played a few innovative strokes, including a series of reverse sweeps, but also enjoyed a lot of luck - he was reprieved three times off the bowling of Sairaj Bahutule, two being dropped catches and one a missed stumping by Naidu, who was unimpressive behind the stumps.
Bangar hit four huge sixes in his innings, stepping out with ease to the spinners, and made a stronger case for higher honours in one-day cricket. He was out for 63 - off 66 balls - in the 47th over, but the match was all but decided by then.
Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden CricInfo.