Virender Sehwag struck a fluent half-century in the first outing of his comeback bid into the national side but that was not good enough to prevent a formidable Delhi side from losing by 18 runs to India Blue in the opening game of NKP Salve Challenger Series at Indore on Thursday.
Playing without skipper Yuvraj Singh, who skipped the tie due to 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.
Virat Kohli-led Delhi will now have to defeat India Red and also expect a favourable outcome in the match between Blue and Red scheduled for tomorrow.
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 which was snapped by Naman Ojha behind stumps.
Coming at two down, Sehwag started with a punchy cover drive off Kumar's bowling.
In the next over bowled by R Vinay Kumar, Sehwag 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 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', which 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. In fact, along with Ashish Nehra, he added 55 runs for the ninth wicket to raise visions of an improbable win.
It was 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.