Air India (Red) face ONGC challenge

Spotlight on Yuvraj, Gambhir

Yuvraj Singh’s men, seeking to become the first side to make it to the final of the 50-over competition, meet a star-studded and power-packed Oil and Natural Gas Commission XI in the first semifinal at the Chinnaswamy stadium on Saturday in a contest that, should the elements choose not to interfere, has all the trappings of a classic.

The two teams have taken not dissimilar routes to the knockout stage -- one win and one no-result -- though due to vastly different circumstances. While Air India’s match against BSNL here on Tuesday was washed out, ONGC’s face-off against BPCL in Visakhapatnam was abandoned on Thursday following the demise of AP Chief Minister YSR Reddy.

In their respective completed encounters, both displayed ample evidence of the enormous firepower at their disposal. In fact, Gautam Gambhir’s men have a more rounded look about them, their immense batting depth complemented by a proven bowling attack spearheaded by pacers Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar and Munaf Patel, with fellow India internationals Amit Mishra and Sarandeep Singh providing the spin back-up. Gagan Khoda’s century and the in-form Virat Kohli’s 73 played as crucial a role as the incisiveness of the bowlers in ONGC’s 71-run win over MRF in Visakhapatnam.
However, Khoda was ruled out of the event with a ligament injury and UP batsman Tanmay Srivastav was drafted in place of him.

Gambhir himself warmed up nicely for the bigger battles ahead with a half-century, and will be quietly confident of his side’s chances, even if a scheduled training session at the KSCA ‘B’ grounds on Friday afternoon was scuppered by a sharp spell of rain.

Air India were even more imposing in their unexpectedly easy seven-wicket lashing of a strong India Cements outfit. Looking a little out of sorts when Rahul Dravid and S Badrinath were involved in a century stand for the third wicket, Yuvraj’s legion roused itself out of slumber when the breakthrough was effected to keep the opposition total to manageable proportions. They will, however, be well aware that in tighter contests, they can ill afford to be as tardy with their catching.

Saying that, their batting appears equipped enough to more than compensate for fielding lapses, though they will put through a far sterner test by ONGC than they were by the erratic Cements bowlers on Thursday.

Robin Uthappa has yet to hit his straps, but Yuvraj’s blistering cameo and Suresh Raina’s wonderful marshalling of the run chase are promising signs, not just for Air India (Red) but for Team India too. The second semifinal will pit Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Air India (Blue) against Tata Sports Club in Mohali on Sunday, keeping the prospect of an all-Air India final here on Tuesday very much alive.

Teams (from): Air India (Red): Yuvraj Singh (capt), Naman Ojha, Robin Uthappa, Suresh Raina, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Sushant Marathe, Ajit Chandila, Dhawal Kulkarni, Ankit Chavan, Saurabh Netravalkar, Moondeep Mangela, Paul Valthaty, Siddharth Trivedi, Rohan Kerkar, Harmeet Singh, Pritam Gandhe.

ONGC: Gautam Gambhir (capt), Gagan Khoda, Virat Kohli, Mithun Manhas, Mayank Tehlan, Ajay Ratra, Amit Mishra, Sarandeep Singh, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Praveen Gupta, Sandeep Sharma, Amit Bhandari, Sumit Narwal, Feroze Ghayas.

Umpires: Shahvir Tarapore and Subrata Das. Third umpire: S Ravi. Match referee: Raju Mukherji.

Hours of play: 1430-1800 hours and 1845-end of play.

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