Tendulkar scorcher sets up big win
India Blue rode on a batting masterclass by Sachin Tendulkar to thrash the Greens by a massive 266 runs and assure themselves of a place in the final of the Challenger Trophy. Tendulkar set the Blues up for a massive total, blazing his way to a 100-ball 139, while Irfan Pathan, Rahul Dravid and Mahendra Singh Dhoni all chipped in with half-centuries in quick time. Chasing an improbable 382, the Greens were never in the hunt and crumbled to a measly 115 in less than 27 overs, in the process handing India Blue victory with the all-important bonus point.
The story of the day was Tendulkar. He has already notched up four Test hundreds at this ground, and today he continued his love affair with the MA Chidambaram Stadium, toying with the bowling and charming the crowd with a quite dazzling display of strokes all round the park, creaming 20 fours and four sixes, almost all of them struck with a precision, timing and authority that had the holiday crowd in raptures. In fact, the Blues got 236 runs in boundaries alone (35 fours and 16 sixes), far more than the opposition managed in all.
The fall of an early wicket - Tanmay Srivastava, a 16-year-old left-hander drafted in from the Green squad, fell third ball - prompted Tendulkar to exercise caution up front, with his first 14 coming off 24 balls. Pathan did most of the damage at that stage, but once Tendulkar was satisfied that he had got his eye in, there was no doubt who held centrestage. On an excellent batting strip which offered no seam or spin, there was little that India Green's modest attack could do.
The fun started in the 11th over of the day, when Lakshmipathy Balaji, attempting a comeback into the national team and buoyed by his first-over success here, bowled one perfectly in the corridor on a good length, only to see Tendulkar caress the ball on the up through cover. That over produced a couple more fours, and thereafter it was mayhem, as Tendulkar unfurled his entire range. Nehra was driven on the up with minimum effort, and then gently caressed past point, while Praveen Kumar's modest pace gave Tendulkar plenty of time to either shuffle across his stumps and flick to leg, or make room and drive through off. The one bowler who felt it the most, though, was Piyush Chawla.
In the last edition of the tournament, Chawla had nailed Tendulkar with a googly. But here it was revenge time. Chawla wasn't helped by some reckless captaincy by Mohammad Kaif, who brought him into the attack at the start of the third Powerplay. Tendulkar deposited a six over long-on to get to his fifty, and then got 14 more in the next three balls, including a glorious inside-out cover-drive and another down-the-pitch hoick over long-on. As if that wasn't enough, Chawla was then slog-swept and reverse-swept off consecutive deliveries as Tendulkar went into overdrive. Kaif was soon forced to turn to his part-timers, which for Tendulkar meant more opportunities to find the boundaries, by conventional and unconventional means. He finally fell to Saurasish Lahiri, the Bengal offspinner, but by then India Blue were going at more than seven an over.
While Tendulkar played the key knock, the rest of the batting all chipped in. Pathan played a crucial role at the start, tonking a couple of huge sixes over long-on and third man and playing the No.3 role to perfection; Rahul Dravid settled in while Tendulkar blazed, and then spanked Lahiri for three sixes en route to a run-a-ball 62, while Dhoni applied the finishing touches to perfection, being chiefly instrumental in ensuring that 109 came off the last ten. Praveen, the birthday boy, and Balaji were carted for boundaries almost at will as India Blue finished with the third-highest total ever made in a one-day match in India.
The only hope for India Green was a blazing start, but both Sourav Ganguly and Wasim Jaffer fell before they got into their stride. Ganguly, in need of a big knock to stake his claim for a national berth, began with three glorious silken drives through the off side, while Jaffer played a couple of pleasing drives, but the runs still only came at around five an over. With the asking-rate mounting, the batsmen attempted more strokes, and fell in the process.
Jaffer led the procession, falling in a manner that has been his undoing in international cricket too, square-driving a delivery which bounced more than he anticipated. Ganguly, who had been cheered enthusiastically throughout in the field earlier this afternoon, perished next for a 30-ball 24, cutting tamely to backward point. Suresh Raina and Mohammad Kaif, who both fell for ducks, played strokes they wouldn't want to see the replays of. In fact it was the forgettable day for the five Uttar Pradesh batsmen, who combined a total of four runs. Parthiv Patel battled it out with a fluent 43, driving and cutting with panache before tamely tickling one to the keeper. The rest of the batting was a complete shambles, allowing Harbhajan Singh to help himself to flattering figures of 4 for 10.
Tanmay Srivastava c Jaffer b Balaji 0 (2 for 1)
Fended a lifter to first slip
Irfan Pathan c Lahiri b Chawla 54 (132 for 2)
Lofted straight to long-on
Sachin Tendulkar c Kaif b Lahiri 139 (226 for 3)
Pulled one fractionally short and outside off to short midwicket
Rahul Dravid c Ganguly b Nehra 62 (286 for 4)
Pulled a short ball, but found the fielder at square leg
Yuvraj Singh c Chawla b Kumar 19 (326 for 5)
Magnificent catch diving forward at the midwicket boundary off a miscued pull
Dinesh Mongia c Kaif b Balaji 1 (328 for 6)
Drove straight to short cover
Wasim Jaffer c sub (Jadeja) b Munaf 12 (31 for 1)
Square-drove uppishly, well taken leaping up, two-handed at point
Sourav Ganguly c sub (Jadeja) b Munaf 24 (48 for 2)
Cut straight to backward point
Suresh Raina c Harbhajan b Pathan 0 (52 for 3)
Slapped a short ball to extra cover
Mohammad Kaif c Mongia b Pathan 0 (55 for 4)
Drove on the up straight to cover
Parthiv Patel c Dhoni b Harbhajan 43 (88 for 5)
Tickled one down leg to the wicketkeeper
Praveen Kumar st Dhoni b Harbhajan 0 (88 for 6)
Rushed out to slog and comprehensively beaten by a doosra
Saurasish Lahiri run out (Pathan/ Dhoni) 2 (91 for 7)
Beaten by a throw from cover while attempting a second run
Piyush Chawla c Patel b Harbhajan 2 (100 for 8)
Caught at long-off
Hemang Badani c Agarkar b Mongia 16 (109 for 9)
Down the pitch and skied to long-off
Ashish Nehra c Yuvraj b Harbhajan 0 (113 all out)
Superb tumbling catch running back from mid-off
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo