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The challenge of a century

Dinesh Karthik's century in the Challenger Trophy final at Motera was the only one in the tournament this season. Since 2000, there have been at least two or more centurions in each edition of India's premier domestic one-day tournament, widely recognised as the event the national selectors watch most keenly before making their picks for the season ahead.

A lack of hundreds in a crunch tournament like the Challenger may be puzzling, but it just may be a reflection of the national side, where, too, the number of centuries scored per match has declined. From January 2006 till date, five Indian players have scored nine centuries in 62 ODIs. Over the same period eight Australian batsmen have reached the milestone 21 times in 60.

Gautam Gambhir is a case in point. He is the personification of a fringe Indian batsman: full of promise but failing at the last hurdle. A player of aggressive temperament, Gambhir has been a prolific run-gatherer for Delhi in first-class cricket over the years. But somehow, despite having had a fair run (13 Tests and 32 ODIs), Gambhir has never become indispensable.

The question is not whether he deserves to be in the Indian squad; more why he can't carry the temperament that helps him construct big innings in domestic cricket to the international arena. It is a problem that seems to afflict other fringe players like Suresh Raina and Mohammad Kaif as well.

The ball didn't come onto the bat at Motera, but all three teams had mediocre bowling attacks, and batsman after batsman failed to convert good starts. Raina fell on 92 in the first game; Gambhir (73) and Badrinath (82 not out), on the second day; Virender Sehwag made his exit at 75 when he looked set to race past the 100-mark in the third game; and Gambhir once again fell short of a hundred in the final.

Karthik, who was the Man of the Match in the final, thought the low bounce and the slowness of the pitch did have an effect on the scores. "It was definitely not easy to pick the ball, and that was always on the mind," he said after his first List A century.

Badrinath, who made 178 runs in the tournament, was of the view that in one-dayers, openers have the best opportunity to score hundreds. "I'm a middle-order batsman and by the time I come in to bat there is not much time left to build a hundred," he said. Karthik, second in the run-getters' list with 181, didn't think there was cause for alarm just yet. "I don't know the actual statistics, but at the same time there are more fifties, and they even out in the end."