A late fightback from the lower order batsmen enabled India [ Images ] 'A' score a thrilling one-wicket victory over India Seniors, with two balls to spare, in the opening match of the Challenger Trophy limited-overs tournament in Mohali on Monday.
Chasing a target of 290 in 50 overs, India 'A' were in the dumps at 234 for 7 in the 42nd over, but some lusty hitting by V R V Singh and Romesh Powar saw them overhaul the Seniors' total, finishing on 291 for 9 in 49.4 overs.
The 'A' team's chase had only two major contributors in skipper V V S Laxman [ Images ] (48) and Hemang Badani (46), but useful knocks by the lower order proved decisive in toppling the Mohammad Kaif-led Seniors.
Laxman and Badani shared a 66-run fourth-wicket partnership, off 86 balls, before Niraj Patel (37), Dinesh Karthick (26), Powar (15) and Singh (25 not out) came up with dour resistance to see the team home.
Requiring 90 runs from the last 12 overs, India 'A', despite the fall of wickets, kept chipping away towards the target, and the clinching moment came in the last over when, with nine runs needed, Rudra Pratap Singh (11 not out) hit Zaheer Khan [ Images ] for two fours.
In fact, the Seniors were let down by India pace bowlers Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan [ Images ], who were walloped in the initial overs. Pathan ended up conceding 69 runs from 10 overs though he got three wickets, while Zaheer went for 53 runs from 7.4 overs and a yield of just one wicket.
However, there was consolation for India Seniors as Y Venugopala Rao, who narrowly missed out on a fine century earlier, was named man of the match.
The 23-year-old Rao hit a 99-ball 98 that helped the Seniors overcome a sluggish start and the early dismissal of Tendulkar, who made a comeback after a five-month injury lay-off.
The 32-year-old batting ace scored 12 off 15 balls.
Rao shared a 105-run stand for the seventh wicket with Ajit Agarkar [ Images ], who hit a half century to provide the Seniors the 'final kick' towards the closing stages of their innings.
Agarkar's 54 came off 42 balls and contained three fours and a six.
Rao's knock overshadowed a fine 50 by local hero Yuvraj Singh [ Images ], who was instrumental in the team's recovery after it had slumped to 70 for three at one stage.
Yuvraj added 79 runs for the fourth wicket with Rao as he laid the foundation for a big total before succumbing to his attacking instincts.
Rudra Pratap Singh proved economical for India 'A' while India seamer Laxmipathy Balaji was the most expensive with two wickets for 76.
Earlier, Seniors failed to make the most of winning the toss and good batting conditions.
Tendulkar was dismissed in the fifth over of the innings when he played inside the line to Balaji for a thick outside edge, which was taken by wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthick.
Irfan Pathan looked to play the conventional opener's role rather than that of a pinch-hitter, although there were a couple of sweetly timed boundaries that kept the scoreboard ticking.
The 'A' team, however, failed to apply the pressure, thanks to some wayward bowling by their leading new ball bowler Balaji, whose opening spell of five overs cost 35 runs, including six wides.
Captain Mohammad Kaif did not last long, flicking Rudra Pratap Singh straight to Gautam Gambhir [ Images ] at square leg in the 12th over.
Pathan was dropped twice, on 27 and 28, in the same over off V R V Singh, but the right arm pacer had his man with a well-directed quicker one that broke through the left-hander's defence.
Yuvraj then rose to the occasion taking advantage of home ground conditions.
The Punjab [ Images ] left-hander took little time in settling into stride. The fact that his partner at the other end, first Pathan and then Y Venugopala, Rao kept rotating the strike helped him a lot.
There were the favourite sweeps and cut on the back foot against the slow bowlers, and the typical on drives off the erring pacers.
Yuvraj reached his half century with a single off Raina but two balls later the 24-year old played a sweep to off-spinner Powar to find Niraj Patel at deep backward square leg.
With Mahendra Singh Dhoni [ Images ] and J P Yadav perishing in the space of three balls, it was left to Rao to see through the innings. And the Andhra lad took the baton with youthful zeal, going about the task without a sense of burden on the shoulder.
If anything, his strokemaking only improved from that point.
Having allowed Yuvraj to enjoy much of the strike, the 23-year old right-hander soon began to dictate terms.
He reached his half century with a slashed boundary over point off V R V Singh, and toyed with Suresh Raina [ Images ] with delicate late cuts to third man boundary and quick singles on the on-side.
With Agarkar's bat meeting the leather in the middle more often than not, the runs kept flowing.
The Mumbaikar opened his shoulder to lift Balaji over long off fence and drove Rudra Pratap Singh to midwicket boundary.
Rao moved into the 90s with three fours off a Balaji over but then played across the line to Singh to be bowled and fall two runs short of the hundred.