Air India stutter into final

Sangwan takes five-for as Kanitkar's men register three-wicket win

The initial stages of the match went according to the script. AI bowlers reduced IOC to 82 for six to justify skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar’s decision to field first, before the defending champions made a mini-recovery to post 185.  

Left-arm pacer Pradeep Sangwan (5/29) was the leading bowler for AI.  The total appeared not even enough to stretch AI, the overwhelming favourites, and the audacious start by Robin Uthappa and Paul Valthaty indicated a quick end to the proceedings.

But AI had to survive several anxious moments before overhauling the target in the 48th over. AI were on auto-pilot mode when Uthappa and Valthaty took them to 45 without loss in five overs. But the introduction of left-arm spinner Rajesh Pawar changed the whole scenario.

Till then batting fluently, Uthappa tried to work Pawar to the on-side but he completely missed the line to get castled.  Suddenly, the AI batsmen found the 22-yard strip filled with hitherto unseen dangers, and even the free-stroking Valthaty looked tentative.

The assured presence of Kanitkar did little to change the siege mentality of the Mumbai batsman, and his stay ended with an ugly swipe off Pawar that ended in the hands of Paresh Patel at cover.

At 96 for two, AI were not exactly in great danger, but the dismissal of Valthaty spread panic through their dressing room.  Thereafter Kanitkar, Mohammad Kaif, Rashmi Ranjan Parida, Rajat Bhatia and Pawan Negi returned to the hut while adding just 35 runs as AI slipped to 133 for seven.

Along with Pawar, offie Patel (2/28) and pacer Amit Dani (2/25) rocked AI with tight spells.  The spin duo troubled the batsmen with appreciable turn and bounce as runs dried up. AI failed to score a single boundary between overs 20.2 and 45.1, relying mainly on sharply run singles, and only fortune’s massive help averted a run-out on more than one occasion.

When Negi departed, AI still needed 53 to win with just three wickets in hand. Ajit Chandela and Dhawal Kulkarni added 54 runs for the unbroken seventh-wicket stand to guide their team home.

There was no place for stroke-play against a set of confident bowlers, and the AI duo assessed the situation perfectly, batting with conviction and patience till the batting Power Play was taken in the 46th over. Once the mandatory fielding restrcitions came into place, Chandela and Kulkarni needed just 1.2 overs to knock off the remaining runs.

AI should thank Sangwan profusely for restricting IOC to a manageable total.  The Delhi lad produced a spell full of verve and guile to rattle the top order. Sangwan and Chandela combined to winkle out six IOC batsmen for less than 100, and it required a stubborn 63-run alliance for the ninth wicket between Dani (50, 69b, 4x4, 3x6) and Balwinder Singh Sandhu Jr to give some respectability to their total. But that wasn’t enough as Air India set up a title clash with State Bank of Hyderabad on Thursday.

Score Board
IOC: Paresh Patel c Valthaty b Chandela 24 (31b, 3x4), Pinal Shah c Trivedi b Sangwan 16 (24b, 1x4, 1x6); Ravikant Shukla b Chandela 21 (32b, 3x4), Wasim Jaffer c Valthaty b Kulkarni 4 (5b), GH Vihari c Valthaty  b Sangwan 0 (8b), Harpreet Singh c Kaif b Sangwan 24 (40b, 2x4), Abbas Ali c Chandela b Bhatia 0 (7b), Amit Dani c Uthappa b Sangwan 50 (69b, 4x4, 3x6), Rajesh Pawar c Trivedi b Sangwan 4 (6b, 1x4), Balwinder Singh Sandhu Jr c Parida b Negi 23 (37b, 2x4), Anand Rajan (not out) 9 (15b, 1x4). Extras (B-1, LB-3, W-5, NB-1) 10. Total (all out, 45.3 overs) 185.
Fall of wickets: 1-43 (Paresh), 2-43 (Pinal), 3-50 (Jaffer), 4-59 (Vihari), 5-77 (Chandela), 6-82 (Abbas), 7-101 (Harpreet), 8-105 (Pawar), 9-168 (Sandhu).
Bowling: Dhawal Kulkarni 10-0-44-1 (w-3), Siddharth Trivedi 8-0-36-0 (w-2, nb-1), Pradeep Sangwan 9.3-1-29-5, Ajith Chandela 8-1-33-2, Rajat Bhatia 4-0-11-1, Pawan Negi 6-0-28-1.
AIR INDIA: Paul Valthaty c Paresh b Pawar 46 (58b, 7x4, 1x6), Robin Uthappa b Pawar 17 (14b, 3x4), Hrishikesh Kanitkar b Dani 41 (44b, 5x4, 1x6), Mohammad Kaif b Pawar 2 (9b), Rajat Bhatia lbw Dani 13 (44b), Rashmi Ranjan Parida c Harpreet b Paresh 4 (8b), Pawan Negi c Shukla b Paresh 4 (21b), Dhawal Kulkarni (not out) 25 (42b, 3x4), Ajit Chandela (not out) 26 (45b, 1x4). Extras (LB-5, W-3, NB-1) 9. Total (for 7 wkts, 47.2 overs) 187.
Fall of wickets: 1-45 (Uthappa), 2-96 (Valthaty), 3-98 (Kaif), 4-113 (Kanitkar), 5-120 (Parida), 6-133 (Bhatia), 7-133 (Negi).
Bowling: Anand Rajan 8.2-0-45-0, Balwinder Singh Sandhu Jr 6-0-36-0 (w-1), Rajesh Pawar 10-2-35-3 (nb-1), Paresh Patel 10-1-28-2 (w-1), Amit Dani 9-0-25-2, Abbas Ali 4-0-13-0 (w-1).

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