Virender Sehwag scored a fluent fifty, but it was not enough to prevent formidable Delhi from going down to India Blue by 18 runs in the opening game of NKP Salve Challenger Series in Indore on Thursday.
Playing without skipper Yuvraj Singh, who was forced to miss the match because of a stiff back, India Blue scored 270 for six in 50 overs, courtesy a 73-ball-91 by Mumbai all-rounder Abhishek Nayar.
In reply, Sehwag, who came in at number four, batted in his customary style, smashing his way to 58 off only 39 balls, with the help of nine boundaries and a six, but Delhi could manage only 252 in 47.5 overs.
Veteran Rajat Bhatia's all-round effort (3-46 in 10 overs and 65 runs) and Ashish Nehra's career-best List A score of 37 not out went in vain.
The Virat Kohli-led Delhi now have to defeat India Red and also expect a favourable outcome in Friday’s match between Blue and Red.
With Yuvraj skipping the game, the interest for the 10,000-odd spectators was some fireworks from Sehwag and Kohli. But, Kohli (5) disappointed as he played away from his body to a Bhuvneshwar Kumar (3/58) delivery that was snapped by Naman Ojha behind the stumps.
Coming at two down, Sehwag started with a punchy cover drive off Kumar's bowling. In the next over, by R Vinay Kumar, he hit a spanking square-cut and then lofted the seamer over extra-cover for a six. The moment width was provided to Sehwag, the ball raced through the cover region while anything on the pads was treated with equal disdain.
Having played his last competitive match (during the IPL in early May), a leaner Sehwag did not look rusty during his short stay at the wicket.
It was Bengal left-arm spinner Iresh Saxena who got lucky when he managed to latch on to a powerful return catch offered by the 'Nawab of Najafgarh. His exit had had Delhi in trouble at 85 for four. Such was his domination that Sehwag scored 58 of those 85 runs.
Delhi's eternal 'Go-to-Man' Bhatia tried his bit with a gritty innings. Along with Ashish Nehra, he added 55 runs for the ninth wicket to raise visions of an improbable victory.
It was the lanky UP seamer Ankit Rajpoot (3-44) who got one to cut back into the right-hander after pitching and Bhatia was clean bowled.
Nehra fought hard, adding another 28 runs with Parvinder Awana (12) for the last wicket before Vinay cleaned up the latter with a fullish delivery.
Earlier, it was Nayar, who with his attacking batting laid the foundation for a healthy score for India Blue.
Nayar was equally impressive against seamer Nehra as well as against spinner Varun Sood, whom he repeatedly swept. He shared two crucial partnerships --- 52 for the fifth wicket with Ankit Bawne (13) and 71 with Piyush Chawla (40) for the sixth wicket.
The unbroken seventh-wicket stand of 48 between Chawla and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (29 not out) helped Blues cross the 250-run mark.
Image: Virender Sehwag
Photograph: Getty Images