Raina charges Air India Red to semi-finals
Suresh Raina hit a sparkling 92 after Naman Ojha laid the platform with a breezy 59 to charge Air India Red to a semi-final contest against ONGC.
It could have been a tricky chase on a slow wicket but Ojha and Raina killed the contest with their attractive aggression. Ojha waited for the new-ball bowlers to be taken off the attack before he upped the ante in style. In the 13th over, P Amarnath's first, Ojha crashed a full delivery for a stunning six over extra cover. It was the beginning of the onslaught. Rahul Dravid brought on spin in the form of R Ashwin from the other end but Ojha responded with a ferocious airy inside-out drive over covers. He went on to pull Amarnath and heave Ashwin for more boundaries to provide impetus to the chase.
Ojha's aggression allowed Raina to settle down through some nervy moments before he too started to scythe through the attack. He got moving with a cover-driven boundary before he hit the best shot of the day: a breathtaking straight six off Amarnath. The shots kept coming in a flood: a drag through midwicket, a peachy drive through covers, a six over midwicket, and even a pulled boundary off Amarnath which was a tad unconvincing as he took his eyes off but went through with the swat. But for the most part, after the initial period, he looked secure.
India Cements had couple of moments in which they could have turned the game. In the 14th over Ojha, on 23 then, hit a hard cover drive and Suresh Kumar nearly pulled off a blinder but couldn't hold on. And the next chance, much simpler this time, came when Raina, on 53, swung Hemang Badani straight to deep midwicket where the substitute fielder Shivakumar dropped a straightforward chance.
Ojha departed soon after that but with Raina, who was later given two more reprieves on 88 and 90, steered the chase along with an equally aggressive Yuvraj Singh to take the game away from India Cements, who had earlier posted a competitive total courtesy an 133-run untroubled partnership between S Badrinath and Dravid.
What stood out in their partnership was the serenity with which they went about their task. With two men who are extremely aware of their own game, it was almost a tango between master and pupil.
Dravid's ODI game is so structured that even though it seems predictable, it is always a safe, secure and successful blueprint. Badrinath is increasingly tending towards a similar approach, especially in domestic cricket. As usual, he started with an open bat-face push for a single to get off the mark and as he settled down, he started unfurling all the familiar shots.
Badrinath repeatedly played the paddle shot - he even picked a few boundaries with it - against the spinners and mixed it with charges down the track. Against seamers, he played those typical short-arm jabs of his and when the bowlers banged it in shorter, he reeled off his upper cuts over the slip cordon. In between these forcing shots, he played innumerable dabs into gaps to rotate the strike. His best stroke of the day, though, was an on-the-up cover drive off the sharp left-arm seamer Saurabh Netravalkar.
Badrinath started off with a feisty cut and a punchy drive against the seamers before lifting Ajith Chandila for two sixes to cow corner in the 19th over. He has of late become more inventive in his shot-making and he continued to show that prowess today with a paddle shot against the medium-pacer Mundeep Mangela. On occasion he moved outside leg stump and walked across the sticks to upset the bowlers' rhythm successfully. He fell when he charged out too early against Chandila, who pushed it wide down the leg side to have him stumped.
Dravid was out before Badrinath, holing out to long-on, but by then he had played another one of his patent innings. He started off with singles and twos and never looked in any trouble as he calmly steered the innings towards a healthy total. He was on 39 when suddenly he decided to up the ante. As he often does against the spinners, he lunged out to Ankit Chavan to heave him over wide long-on. He didn't leave the crease; it was just a purposeful lunge as he wristed it up and over the boundary. The next delivery was pulled to wide of midwicket and a little later, he chipped Dhawal Kulkarni over mid-on.
After the dismissal of Dravid and Badrinath, the lower order crumbled cheaply and perhaps, it was that period where India Cements lost the game. It proved to be the difference between a merely competitive total and a daunting one.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo