India Blue’s conquest of Delhi was authoritative with few casualties.
The march, built on a calculated start, reached its destination on the strength of a collective show, with victory coming in style. The Delhi camp lay in tatters and the Challenger Series for the NKP Salve Trophy went to the team that looked the most compact and composed throughout the tournament.
The Holkar Stadium commanded a packed audience as some current and past stars tested each other’s resilience and form.
Propelled by Manish Pandey’s strikingly positive knock (62), India Blue set up a target of 275. Delhi could not make it, falling by 50 runs, as Gautam Gambhir, Unmukt Chand and Virender Sehwag succumbed to the seamers in the nascent stage of the chase.
Two deliveries was all India Blue needed to quell Delhi’s aspirations. One crashed through Unmukt’s tentative prod and the other left Sehwag embarrassed, the sight of bent timber, creating a hushed ambience normally reserved for a Sachin Tendulkar dismissal.
In fact, Delhi never could recover from the cheap dismissal of Gambhir, going through the most turbulent phase of his career as runs have just deserted him at all fronts.
When Virat Kohli ran himself out, looking to beat bowler Vinay Kumar in the follow-through, the contest was practically dead, regardless of the resistance offered by Milind Kumar, the ever-reliable Rajat Bhatia and Puneet Bisht.
India Blue chose to bat and rightly so. It had the firepower to put pressure on the opposition.
Openers Akshath Reddy and Naman Ojha did a decent job and then Pandey took over.
The Karnataka batsman’s fluent stroke-play left Delhi worried as he picked the gaps and lofted the ball judiciously. He dominated the 99-run stand for the third wicket with Yuvraj Singh. It was to prove a crucial segment.
Yuvraj, in-form Abhishek Nayar and Pandey fell in succession. Delhi backed itself to tame the lower half of the India Blue innings but Ankit Bawne and Piyush Chawla came up with a competitive flair that bolstered India Blue’s position. Eighty runs accrued in the last ten overs as Delhi wilted under Chawla’s assault.
For seamer Parvinder Awana, the four-wicket haul was hardly a consolation as fellow-bowlers Ashish Nehra, Pawan Suyal and Varun Sood came a cropper.
Once again, Bhatia made his presence felt by claiming four wickets, including the significant scalps of Pandey, Yuvraj and Nayar.
Delhi sorely required a blazing start but it never happened. Bhuvneshwar, so adept at making early dents, ensured he did not err and India Blue was on course. It stayed true to its task, a late flourish by Delhi only a minor aberration.
The scores: India Blue: Akshath Reddy c Kohli b Bhatia 22 (36b, 4x4), Naman Ojha b Awana 33 (40b, 6x4), Manish Pandey c & b Bhatia 62 (78b, 6x4, 1x6), Yuvraj Singh lbw b Bhatia 29 (40b, 2x4, 1x6), Abhishek Nayar lbw b Bhatia 12 (10b, 2x4), Ankit Bawne lbw b Awana 37 (44b, 3x4, 1x6), Piyush Chawla c Bisht b Awana 42 (32b, 4x4, 1x6), Bhuvneshwar Kumar c Sood b Awana 4 (8b), R. Vinay Kumar (not out) 17 (11b, 1x4, 1x6), Iresh Saxena run out 2 (2b); Extras (b-1, nb-5, w-8) 14; Total (for nine wkts. in 50 overs): 274.
Fall of wickets: 1-53 (Ojha), 2-62 (Reddy), 3-131 (Yuvraj), 4-161 (Nayar), 5-178 (Pandey), 6-224 (Bawne), 7-240 (Bhuvneshwar), 8-257 (Chawla), 9-274 (Saxena).
Delhi bowling: Nehra 9-1-56-0, Suyal 9-0-50-0, Awana 8-0-39-4, Sood 10-0-55-0, Bhatia 12-0-59-4, Milind 2-0-14-0.
Delhi: Gautam Gambhir c Pandey b Bhuvneshwar 4 (4b, 1x4), Unmukt Chand b Bhuvneshwar 6 (11b, 1x4), Virat Kohli run out 23 (28b, 5x4), Virender Sehwag b Vinay 5 (7b, 1x4), Milind Kumar lbw b Chawla 54 (67b, 7x4), Rajat Bhatia c Yuvraj b Chawla 25 (49b, 2x4), Puneet Bisht (not out) 54 (49b, 6x4, 1x6), Varun Sood lbw b Bhuvneshwar 21 (31b, 2x4), Ashish Nehra c Yuvraj b Bhuvneshwar 24 (13b, 1x4, 3x6), Parvinder Awana c Ojha b Vinay 1 (3b), Pawan Suyal c Ojha b Vinay 0 (8b); Extras (b-1, lb-2, nb-2, w-2): 7; Total (in 44.4 overs) 224.
Fall of wickets: 1-4 (Gambhir), 2-17 (Unmukt), 3-26 (Sehwag), 4-48 (Kohli), 5-120 (Milind), 6-123 (Bhatia), 7-177 (Sood), 8-211 (Nehra), 9-212.
India Blue bowling: Bhuvneshwar 9-1-39-4, Vinay 10.4-1-64-3, Chawla 9-0-45-2, Rajpoot 8-1-35-0, Saxena 6-0-23-0, Yuvraj 2-0-15-0.
Man-of-the match: Bhuvneshwar Kumar.