Sehwag ton cannot avoid Delhi defeat
Uttar Pradesh 403 (Dagar 116, Kaif 91, Raina 55, Praveen 51*, Narwal 4-71) and 158 for 4 (Dagar 37, Raina 37) beat Delhi 235 (Bisht 52, Imtiaz 5-59) and 322 (Sehwag 107, Manhas 65, Bhuvneshwar 4-94, Imtiaz 4-112) by six wickets
Uttar Pradesh wrestled an outright win in a tight tussle with Delhi's ability to kill time, the fading light and a target that oscillated between reach and just out of grasp.
An aggressive but controlled century from Virender Sehwag, batting with an injured finger, gave Delhi a decent chance of grabbing some points from their Ranji Trophy season opener.
Sehwag's calculated belligerence this morning ended up being the only passage of play in which Delhi looked in charge in the four-day match. He added 85 with Pradeep Sangwan for the seventh wicket over the session at a crowd-pleasing clip, and took Delhi to 322 to set UP a target of 155.
It was a gettable total, but it would be a test of the composure of the UP batsmen, their response to the threat of the experienced Delhi bowlers, and the ability of the light to hold out till the target was reached. Again, UP came through as they had in every phase of the match.
The openers set up the start, scoring 54 in 15 overs, and Raina came in at No.3 (instead of at No. 5 as in the first innings) to take UP to 117.
Mohammed Kaif had been injured in the first innings, hit on the middle finger of his right hand, and had to sit out during Delhi's second innings. It was said later that Kaif would have come out to bat had the situation got dire. At one stage it did, with Parvinder Singh and Arish Alam getting tied down by Ashish Nehra and Ishant Sharma.
Delhi took their chances in the field to slow the game down. They had shin pads and helmets brought on, and the quick bowlers took slow trundles back from their extended followthroughs to the top of their run.
Parvinder struck clean boundaries off Ishant and Nehra, and the new man Ali Murtaza, who took over almost seamlessly, followed him. Ten runs off Ishant's last over of the match then melted UP's anxiety away and two overs later, when Murtaza creamed a sizzling square drive off Sumit Narwal, the scores were even. Alam hit a late cut off Vikas Mishra to clinch victory.
UP were feted and rewarded by the Ghaziabad organisers in a lengthy prize distribution ceremony, and Delhi's star players melted into the background. Delhi coach Vijay Dahiya said his team had been completely outplayed by UP in every department "and in patience and consistency." The sudden rush of heavyweight names did bring, he said, "to the back of your mind the thought that these guys will come and deliver. But it's not about them and what they are expected to do. Eventually, it's about the guy in the middle taking responsibility."
That guy in the middle today turned out to be Sehwag, who paced his innings as if his runs were in perfect sync with the clock. He may have hit 16 fours in the morning, but did not look like playing to either turn up in the highlights or offer the bowlers a chance. All but 31 of his runs came in boundaries; he was particularly severe on Imtiaz Ahmed.
If Sehwag had given Delhi a narrow opening to grab some points and wrest out a draw, his innings should also have given the Indian selectors and the core of the team management some breathing space going into the Ahmedabad Test against England. It was Sehwag's first Ranji century for Delhi in almost six years, out of a total of eight, the last coming against Haryana in January 2007. It was also his first three-figure score in any match since December 2011 after his double-hundred against West Indies in Indore.
It has been a while, and Sehwag knows it, but he was neither hurried nor hasty and for the better, like he has always been, a man in control of his destiny. When he reached his century with a brisk two to cover, the noisiest stands to the east, packed in on a Monday, made themselves heard to "Veeru."
Before he pointed his bat at the dressing room, Sehwag turned and acknowledged this audience. To crowded, chaotic Ghaziabad, Sehwag's innings was what they had been waiting for from the day the glamour boys came to town - a generous sprinkle of stardust.
It looked like a perfect Ranji game played in a small venue on a fair, result-oriented wicket. Six points to the home team and a century from Veeru. It was as if Diwali had turned up early.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo