When fast food was served

K. C. VIJAYA KUMAR

Air-India flew out of Bangalore, the venue of India's first Twenty20 tournament, with the Unibic Twenty20 Bradman Cup.-

CRICKET'S latest avatar — Twenty20 — made its long overdue debut in India. The Unibic Twenty20 Bradman Cup, held in Bangalore recently on a weekend that had its dash of sun and spells of rain, concluded with a delightful twist of irony. The final between Air India and hosts KSCA XI turned out to be a 17-overs a side affair as the rain Gods were in a mood for mischief! When purists are screaming `murder' about Twenty20's entry into the cricketing culture, we end up having a game that is shortened further!

The conflicting views about Twenty20 may continue forever but for one team — Air India — the tournament was all about playing consistently on the Chinnaswamy Stadium turf. And true to form, Air India emerged champion with a six-wicket victory over KSCA XI.

For KSCA XI, all-rounder B. Akhil stepped up the scoreboard with some lusty strikes. And C. Raghu employed the `Mariller Scoop' to good effect in the last over to help the score to 117. Air India had to chase 121 in 17 overs because of the rain break and the consequent application of the Duckworth-Lewis rule.

Air India opener Neeraj Patel was run out off the very first delivery bowled. However, captain and `man of the tournament' Suresh Raina (37) steadied the ship and soon made full use of the initial field restrictions. Raina whipped N. C. Aiyappa over mid-wicket and Naman Ojha, who scored 66, also joined the party, slog-sweeping C. Raghu.

After the initial flurry, the duo settled down into a string of sharp singles and their 95-run partnership guided Air India to the brink of victory. Both gifted their wickets to left-arm spinner C. Raghavendra but with Dinesh Kaarthick flicking the winning runs and then jumping high and punching the air, a young Air India team had indeed touched the horizon.

Earlier KSCA qualified for the final through a bowl-out, Twenty20's version of a tie-breaker, after it got involved in a three-way tie of two points each with Bradman World XI and Chemplast in the `A' Zone. KSCA notched the highest points (8) in the bowl-out, in which the teams got ten deliveries each to castle unprotected stumps without any batsmen.

The three-way tie was triggered by Chemplast's five-wicket victory over KSCA. Chemplast's pursuit of KSCA's 112 commenced with a 53-run opening-wicket partnership between Parthiv Patel (33) and S. Badrinath (21). After their dismissals, the middle order caved in until Ajay Kudua and Vasanth Saravanan stemmed the tide.

The Bradman World XI, with a bevy of stars ranging from Mohamed Sami to local favourite Javagal Srinath in its fold, dished out average fare. The pre-tournament favourite suffered a shock 33-run defeat against KSCA XI before finding its feet through M. S. Dhoni's belligerent unbeaten 91 to defeat Chemplast by six wickets.

Against a KSCA line-up, high on youth and adrenaline, World XI's lone highlight was Srinath's ability to still bowl with pace and swing. The clash against Chemplast offered a chance for redemption and World XI rode high on Dhoni's knock of 91 off 61 balls. Dhoni sprung to action after the initial dismissals. Jesuraj, Ram Kumar and Hemang Badani were all hoisted over the ropes and the runs just kept coming while Shoaib Malik proved to be a mere spectator at the other end. Earlier, the Chemplast innings was in a shambles but it found an anchor in Hemang Badani (47) and the final flourish came through Ajay Kudua's (24) cameo. World XI eventually lost out in the bowl-out, mustering just two points.

In the `B' Zone, Suresh Raina, the latest Indian hope, did enough to ensure a final berth for his team. Raina's unbeaten 57 and his off-breaks which captured two wickets helped Air-India defeat New South Wales (NSW) by seven wickets. It was Air India's second successive victory to top Zone `B'. Earlier, Air India, guided by Dinesh Kaarthick's knock of 62 off 47 balls and his unfinished 92-run fourth-wicket partnership with S. Sriram (unbeaten 30), defeated Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) by seven wickets. Against NSW, Raina shared a 69-run partnership with opener Naman Ojha (29). His knock ensured that Air India got the momentum, which the team never lost till the end.

Much was expected of NSW, the Pura Cup champions. However the team slumped as its batsmen failed to understand that the hard-earned single pepped up by the odd boundary is the ideal mix for 20-20. The batsmen instead tried to clear the ropes and holed out in the deep. The lone piece of cheer for NSW was E. Cowan's diving airborne catch at short cover to dismiss Air India's Rohit Sharma off Nathan Bracken.

CAB, after losing to Air India, recouped and defeated NSW by 23 runs in an inconsequential match after Air-India had already qualified for the final from the `B' Zone.

The initial crowd response to the tournament bordered on the lukewarm as the numbers were provided by a few schools allowing their students a sneak peek at Twenty20. However, the throng at the Eastern Stands and the Pavilion tier for the final would have enthused hosts KSCA and sponsors Unibic, a leading Australian biscuit company.