Tenacious Marathe carries Air India Red through
ONGC got Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina out for next to nothing, but they couldn't get through a tenacious and a slightly fortunate Sushant Marathe, who carried Air India Red through a tricky chase and into the final of the BCCI Corporate Trophy. Ishant Sharma and Sarandeep Singh bowled their hearts out to take quick middle-order wickets, but Marathe, promoted ahead of Raina, kept his cool.
During those middle overs, Air India Red went from 98 for 1 to 148 for 5, but that stumble paled in comparison with ONGC's, who were well placed at 160 for 3 but couldn't even play the whole 50 overs in setting a below-par total. Gautam Gambhir, the ONGC captain who scored 63, would have hoped for a similar collapse when he brought Ishant Sharma back soon after Amit Mishra finally got Robin Uthappa for an unconvincing 45.
These are no friendly matches, proved Ishant. First Raina got a sharp lifter that he fended. Clearly he didn't want any more of that, and went to try and disperse the close-in fielders in the next over. Sarandeep saw him step out early, and pushed in a straighter one to get him. Yuvraj, though, got the real mean one from Ishant, a vicious bouncer he top-edged even before he could look back. When Sarandeep changed ends and got Hrishikesh Kanitkar on the sweep, Air India Red still needed 66, and all their star players were back.
Marathe had already had a life by then. When on 29 he had lobbed Sarandeep to slip and not walked. The umpire concurred with the batsman, who got a mouthful of secrets from Gambhir. It also led ONGC coach AN Sharma to call the umpiring "poor".
The outpour from Gambhir showed that Marathe was playing well, and foiling their plans. In the second over of the chase he walked out instead of Raina, and busily started taking Air India Red close. After that altercation Marathe continued in the same vein, even though more illustrious names fell in tame fashion at the other end.
On a turning pitch, Marathe did play and miss a bit but wasn't unsettled enough to play a false shot. The required run-rate at that time was not an issue, thanks to the quick start he and Uthappa had provided. Marathe's maturity showed in that he didn't go for the boundaries during the last 20 overs of his stay. Ankeet Chavan's chancy but effective 45-ball 41 with six boundaries helped, as their unbeaten 67-run stand took Air India Red home.
How Gambhir would have hoped for Marathe-like resistance in his line-up. His openers - a strange choice, really - were not going to stick around anyway. Praveen Kumar and Sandeep Sharma, opening the innings for a team that had Gambhir and Tanmay Srivastava, were a risk that didn't pay off. When Dhawal Kulkarni did away with them in consecutive deliveries, in the seventh over, it was down to Gambhit and Kohli to set up a decent total.
And they threatened to do so during a 92-run third-wicket partnership. But Air India Red came back through two part-time spinners and India players, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina.
The main feature of both Gambhir and Kohli's innings was their use of feet on a pitch that is not conducive to strokeplay. They both looked to come forward, often step out to spinners, and then also use the depth of the crease to nudge or dab off the back foot for singles. They also had to rebuild the innings after a poor start.
But with Kohli and Gambhir looking good, Yuvraj had to fall back on his and Raina's bowling. They went for 41 for 2 in nine overs between them. Yuvraj got a return catch with one that stopped on Kohli, who had looked more assertive and confident of the two in getting to 46. His inside-out six off Yuvraj in the previous over had been a treat. He came down the track, made room too, and lofted over wide long-off. It was sweet revenge, and Yuvraj didn't hide it, prolonging his celebration. Kohli, on his part, didn't even look at Yuvraj and waited for the celebration to subside before he walked off.
Gambhir, though, continued playing solidly, and crossed his half-century before playing an ambitious inside-out shot against Raina and holing out to Uthappa. Yuvraj saw the opportunity there, and went on the aggressive, bringing back his faster bowlers. Even without the Powerplays in place, he kept only three fielders outside the circle for the rest of the duration, and the first slip became a fixture. Mun Mangela started the slide with the wickets of Ajay Ratra and Mayank Tehlan, and left-armer Saurabh Netravalkar got Amit Mishra and Sarandeep Singh. Five wickets fell for 21 runs, and only a 20-run last-wicket partnership took ONGC beyond 200.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo