India 'A' extends lease over trophy

DEFENDING champion India `A' retained the TVS Salve Challenger Series Trophy with an emphatic 99-run victory over India `B' in the final at Bangalore. It was a victory that had the Sachin Tendulkar signature scrawled in bold letters.

K. C. VIJAYA KUMAR

DEFENDING champion India `A' retained the TVS Salve Challenger Series Trophy with an emphatic 99-run victory over India `B' in the final at Bangalore. It was a victory that had the Sachin Tendulkar signature scrawled in bold letters.

The India `A' team which won the TVS Challenger Cup. Standing (from left): Sandeep Patil (coach), Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Avishkar Salvi, Ajay Rathra, Rohan Gavaskar, Gautam Gambir, Mohammed Kaif and Wasim Jaffer. Kneeling (from left): Mithun Minhas, S. Sriram, Irfan Pathan Jr. and Ramesh Powar. -- Pic. K. BHAGYA PRAKASH-

The Mumbai maestro set the base with a measured 88 and later when India `B', chasing 314, hinged its hopes on captain Rahul Dravid and man-of-the-series Yuvraj Singh, Tendulkar turned his arm over and was soon punching the air in delight. He had Dravid (27) playing all over a delivery that broke back and disturbed the stumps.

The crucial strike in the 23rd over effectively snuffed out the challengers' hope despite Yuvraj Singh's (47) belated effort at bucking the tournament's trend — teams chasing never won. An asking rate hovering beyond seven and partners leaving the crease in a hurry, forced Yuvraj to swing his arms and lose his way out in the chaos of the chase. India `B' was restricted to 215 for nine in 41.1 overs and with an injured Dinesh Mongia unable to bat, Anil Kumble's men basked in the glow of flashbulbs. It was also a personal high for Kumble as his spell in the middle overs in tandem with Tendulkar forced India `B' to choke.

The summit clash gained momentum as Anil Kumble had his first tryst with luck by calling right at the toss. The India `A' skipper promptly elected to bat and the stage was set for Sachin Tendulkar (88, 95b, 11x4). The World's premier batsman started on a circumspect note and his measured approach hinted at eyes that were blinkered to a long stay at the middle. Tendulkar's opening partner Gautam Gambhir (35) whipped Amit Bhandari but was soon out while giving the charge to Dinesh Mongia.

Yuvraj Singh pulls Ramesh Powar of India `A' to the fence during the course of his unbeaten century. Yuvraj was named the man of the series. — Pic. K. BHAGYA PRAKASH-

The middle-overs remained quiet as Wasim Jaffer and Mohammed Kaif failed to convert confident starts into productive ones and it was left to Tendulkar to repeat his patented act in Indian cricket — playing the shepherd. Tendulkar's restraint soon ebbed away as he drove the seamers and later tucked into spinners with delectable shots.

The Mexican-waves in the stands were gathering momentum as the fans egged their favourite cricketer to ease past another century. However Tendulkar holed out to the deep against off-spinner Sarandeep Singh and it was left to the left-handed duo of S. Sriram (70, 55b, 8x4) and Rohan Gavaskar (49, 45b, 3x4, 1x6) to hustle runs with a 113-run fifth-wicket partnership that helped India `A' post 314 for six in 50 overs.

Sriram hoodwinked the fielder patrolling third-man with reverse sweeps played rather fine while Rohan Gavaskar stung by an exchange of words with seamer Amit Bhandari, hoisted the seamer over the BEML end top-tier. The partnership sported fast wheels as the duo scampered hard and harried the fielders in the deep.

Sachin Tendulkar set the tone for the final with a solid 88, which helped his team run up a good total. He also won the man of the match award. — Pic. K. BHAGYA PRAKASH-

Earlier, the final's dress rehearsal — a league clash between India `A' and India `B' — helped Dinesh Mongia and Yuvraj Singh to highlight their diverse skills. Mongia (121, 118b, 19x4) and Yuvraj's (111 n.o., 81b, 9x4, 4x6) centuries helped India `B' win by 82 runs after a rain-intermission and a revised Duckworth Lewis target left India `A' chasing 308 in 40 overs.

India `B' had set a scorching pace earlier in the evening and posted 340 for two in 50 overs as Mongia grabbed a lifeline in the very first ball of the match. An airy jab at Avishkar Salvi's delivery proved lucky as the snick slipped through Mithun Minhas' palms in the slips and Mongia, sighting his day in the sun, made it brighter with shots on both sides of the wicket. His strokes on the off-side were indeed a revelation coming as it did from a batsman who loved to plunder from the mid-wicket area while Yuvraj's strokes had an air of panache associated with a talent itching to paint a distinct canvas.

The two southpaws shared a 117-run second-wicket partnership that left Anil Kumble swapping bowlers and working over-time on field placements. A beefed up on-side field failed to choke Yuvraj's whips, while Mongia queered the pitch with his late cuts and flicks. The run feast had its seasoning in Thilak Naidu's unbeaten 47 as the Karnataka wicket-keeper batsman displayed an ease associated with a confident mind resting on a strong skill-base.

Dinesh Mongia, who was in great form, highlighted his skills with a century against India `A'. -- Pics. K. BHAGYA PRAKASH-

The India `A' chase faltered after Tendulkar's (22) early dismissal. Diminutive Gautam Gambhir (58) however stayed unruffled and hustled runs on the on-side before joining the casualty list of pressure-induced dismissals that derail run-chases under lights. India `A' was bundled out for 225 while Mongia bagged four wickets on a day when he probably woke up with a song on his lips.

For the third team in the fray — India Seniors — it proved to be an eminently forgettable tournament. Sourav Ganguly's men lost two consecutive matches against India `A' and India `B' and were soon taking early flights out of the City. The tournament opener witnessed Zaheer Khan reliving the horrors of his spell in the World Cup final against Australia.

Rahul Dravid gives Murali Kartik the treatment in his knock of 107. -- Pics. K. BHAGYA PRAKASH-

Two no-balls and three wides ruined Zaheer's first over and India Seniors were soon climbing up hill against India `A' which posted 276 after Rohan Gavaskar (79 n.o.) and S. Sriram's (76) 126-run fifth-wicket partnership capped the slog with runs that matter.

India Seniors had a few sunny moments that reflected in L. Balaji's probing first spell that teased and tormented batsmen with an itch to dabble outside the off-stump while Harbhajan Singh added another nugget snapping Tendulkar's drive. The off-spinner with a short cover and short mid-wicket in place, cramped Tendulkar and soon had his rewards while Balaji's perseverance yielded a five-wicket haul.

India Seniors' attempt at scaling 276 perished as night swept in and southpaw Hemang Badani's 73 (117m, 79b, 7x4) rescue bid went in vain. Badani and Sanjay Bangar's (66) 114-run fifth-wicket partnership threatened to upset Anil Kumble's plans and when the target whittled down to 100 in the last ten overs, anything was possible. But Badani after warming hearts with strokes all over the carpet, succumbed with a hoick against Avishkar Salvi and Ganguly's men were soon nursing a 27-run defeat.

L. Balaji exults after getting rid of Wasim Jaffer in the league match between India Seniors and India `A'. Balaji took five wickets for 50 runs in that match. -- Pic. K. BHAGYA PRAKASH-

The next match only worsened Ganguly's countenance as India `B' riding piggyback on skipper Dravid's 107, won by 63 runs. Dravid (107, 128m, 97b, 13x4, 1x6) propelled India `B' to 338 for five in 50 overs and the imposing total left India Seniors clueless especially after Ganguly and Laxman charged and failed against Sarandeep Singh and Sairaj Bahutule. India Seniors scored 275 for seven in 50 overs and was knocked out of the tournament. The India Seniors' tumble was delayed as Badani (61 n.o.) and Bangar (63) lent a late charge that fizzled out well short of the target.

The India `B' innings revolved around Dravid's ton which proved that consistency remains a key asset in his kit bag. The Dravid aura had an immediate after glow as Balaji erred on the fuller length and the Indian team vice-captain opened his account with an on-drive that was timed with a vintage feel that perhaps reminded him of his recent stint in Scotland. Along with Ajit Agarkar (57), Dravid sewed up the middle-order and later the slog overs had a touch of mayhem as Yuvraj Singh and Vijay Bharadwaj forced bowlers to nurse broken spirits.

The tournament that uncorked a new season however lacked the fizz associated with the rise of fresh talent. A story of batsmen boosting their collective self-esteem on placid tracks against bowlers sent on a leather-hunt has been an old Indian tale. And a galloping extras list — 199 — along with butter-fingered fielders grassing chances are maladies that need to be corrected fast before India can dream about catching up with Australia's giant strides.

The scores: Final:

India `A' 314 for six in 50 overs (Gautam Gambhir 35, Sachin Tendulkar 88, Md. Kaif 38, S. Sriram 70, Rohan Gavaskar 49) beat India `B' 215 for nine in 41.1 overs (Rahul Dravid 27, Yuvraj Singh 47, Sairaj Bahutule 54 not out, Ramesh Powar three for 29).

League matches:

India `A' 276 for eight in 50 overs (Sachin Tendulkar 45, S. Sriram 76, Rohan Gavaskar 79 not out, L. Balaji five for 50) beat India Seniors 249 for eight in 50 overs (Sourav Ganguly 27, V.V.S. Laxman 30, Hemang Badani 73, Sanjay Bangar 66, Anil Kumble three for 56).

India `B' 338 for five in 50 overs (S.S. Das 33, Ajit Agarkar 57, Rahul Dravid 107, Yuvraj Singh 30) beat India Seniors 275 for seven in 50 overs (Parthiv Patel 30, R. S. Sodhi 51, Sourav Ganguly 25, Hemang Badani 61 not out, Sanjay Bangar 63).

India `B' 340 for two in 50 overs (Dinesh Mongia 121, Satyajit Parab 41, Yuvraj Singh 111 not out, Thilak Naidu 47 not out) beat India `A' 225 in 35.2 overs (Gautam Gambhir 58, Md. Kaif 28, S. Sriram 29, Mithun Minhas 38, Dinesh Mongia four for 31).