India A 276 for 8 (Gavaskar 79* Sriram 77, Balaji 5-50) beat India Seniors 249 for 8 (Badani 73, Bangar 66) by 27 runs
The Challenger Series for the 2003-04 season got off to an entertaining start when India A pulled off a 27-run upset victory over the Seniors at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. Opting to bat first on a belter, India A shrugged off the loss of early wickets to score 276, and then restricted the Seniors to 249.
If the idea of the tournament was to pit the probables for the Indian team together and judge their performances, then today's match should have given the selectors plenty to ponder over. The most impressive displays were from those on the fringes of the national team, while the certainties put in tepid performances. The lack of match-play for many of the top players was evident too. In fact, of the five star-rated performances today, four came from players who had toured with the A team to England recently. For India A, Sridharan Sriram (77) and Rohan Gavaskar (79 not out) were the heroes, while Hemang Badani (73) and Sanjay Bangar (66) contributed most of the runs for India Seniors. L Balaji had reason to celebrate too, bowling with control and consistency to pick up a five-for.
Both innings were dominated by fifth-wicket partnerships: Sriram and Gavaskar revived India A's innings with a 126-run stand, while Badani and Bangar added 114 to put the India Seniors' run-chase back on track after they had slumped to 86 for 4.
On an excellent batting strip, a target of 277 wasn't insurmountable, but India Seniors erred in sending Parthiv Patel to open, while Sourav Ganguly dropped down to No. 3. The move flopped, as Parthiv edged the fourth ball of the innings to Mohammad Kaif at gully. Rayudu was secure in defence, but got himself run out after a misunderstanding with Ganguly (7 for 2). Ganguly himself started nervously, then showed signs of getting back in form with a couple of rasping square-drives, before top-edging a pull off Pathan (39 for 3).
When Tendulkar - in the middle of an inspired spell - trapped VVS Laxman (30) in front to end a promising 47-run stand with Badani, India A seemed to have wrapped up the match. However, Badani and Bangar then proceeded to pull the innings out of the rut. Badani used the sweep to good effect, and drove in the V to anything which was pitched up. Bangar, once again, impressed with his cricketing sense, chipping over the infield intelligently and running hard.
Salvi ended the partnership when Badani - after having scored 13 from that over - attempted a pull and top-edged to Ajay Ratra (200 for 5). Bangar was stumped off Anil Kumble soon after, as India Seniors' hopes faded away.
Earlier, Balaji was the chief wrecker as India A stuttered at the start. Keeping an excellent control over his length and pitching it consistently in the corridor, Balaji struck three times in his first six overs, and almost got a fourth. Gautam Gambhir succumbed to an old weakness, driving on the up at a widish ball, straight to Ambati Rayudu at backward point (20 for 1). Balaji then bowled Tendulkar with a no-ball, but television replays suggested that the call was a harsh one.
Wasim Jaffer's played three gorgeous drives on either side of the wicket, and then fell attempting another one, nicking to VVS Laxman at slip (43 for 2), while Kaif gave more catching practice to Laxman (66 for 3). With Zaheer Khan showing signs of early season rustiness - he bowled four no-balls and as many wides in his first five overs, which went for 38 - Balaji's incisiveness and control was vital in keeping the senior side in the match.
On 7 when given the reprieve, Tendulkar struggled for fluency throughout, striking just four fours in his 66-ball effort. His subdued innings finally ended courtesy a clever piece of bowling by Harbhajan, who enticed Tendulkar down the pitch and then held on to a sharp return catch.
Sriram and Gavaskar led the recovery with a carefully constructed partnership. Both batsmen were circumspect at the start, nurdling the ball in the gaps and sprinting hard, and then slowly upped the tempo. Sriram's sweep stroke was especially effective, while Gavaskar played some spanking shots down the ground, especially memorable being a straight six off Harbhajan and a straight-drive off Zaheer. The stand finally ended when Sriram skied an attempted flick to Ganguly at mid-on (237 for 5), but Gavaskar kept the innings going. In the end, a total of 276 turned out to be more than enough.