Dagar, Kaif leave star-studded Delhi behind
Uttar Pradesh 292 for 6 (Dagar 116, Kaif 91, Narwal 3-48) lead Delhi 235 (Bisht 52, Imtiaz 5-59) by 57 runs
Delhi were left searching for directions in Ghaziabad, one of its much-derided eastern outskirts. The match, packed to bursting with big Delhi names, is in danger of being snatched away by the journeymen of Uttar Pradesh. If medium-pacer Imtiaz Ahmed took out half the Delhi batting on day one of the Ranji Trophy, on day two, Mukul Dagar handled their bowling with the precise and heavy tread of a batsman determined to make his mark.
It was a 196-run partnership for the second wicket between Dagar and Mohammad Kaif that ensured that if Delhi want points from this game, they will have to amp up the quality of their cricket so that it matches their reputations. For the better part of two days, the game has belonged to UP and its bling-less cricketers.
In north India, the name Dagar is usually associated with the upper echelons of Hindustani classical music. Never with cricketers, let alone rather substantially built left-hand batsmen. For the UP team though, Dagar could be the answer to the question of who could possibly open the innings with Tanmay Srivastava. Delhi-born and -bred, Dagar played Under-19 and limited-overs cricket for Haryana before making his first-class debut for UP in December 2011 against Karnataka.
In only his second first-class match, Dagar held off two India bowlers for two sessions in testing conditions and then broke free in the third to record his first Ranji century. Dagar's 116 was impressive because of the situation, the conditions and the bowling. He showed he has the composure required of opening batsmen, a compact enough technique for the first-class game and the ability to play the ball, not the bowler.
In the morning session, Dagar was happy to turn the strike over to Kaif, the senior partner. He went into lunch on 61 off 127 balls but when he returned, it was as if his appetite had only been stoked. With the sun out for the first time, the wicket drying up and the ball becoming somewhat easier to time, the steady, cautious opener defrosted into a nimble-footed shot-maker.
All erring width was punished and Dagar raced past Kaif scoring at a run a ball. He went after Ashish Nehra, hitting two boundaries in an over, and lofted Vikas Mishra over midwicket. Ishant Sharma, who replaced Nehra, was hit for a razor-straight drive. Mishra was flicked off the pads as Dagar got into his nineties. If until then, Kaif had been nagging him to convert twos into threes, the sight of his hundred and a slowing outfield had Dagar sprinting for three to complete his century.
Kaif's 91 was a typical Kaif innings: he came in late last evening and bull-headedly hung on. With his inexperienced team-mate at the other end, he took control of the run-scoring this morning. There were nudges, pushes, dabs for singles, tickles to fine leg and drives through cover. There was also a tussle with Ishant that at the end of the day, Kaif could think he had won.
It started early with the bowler incensed at having being steered to third man for a boundary. A bouncer that followed didn't rise to the height a ducking Kaif expected and he was hit on the back of his helmet. There was treatment from the backroom staff not once but twice.
Kaif got going again, cutting Ishant for a boundary. About half an hour after Ishant had dented his helmet, he pounced on a short ball from Nehra and pulled it for six.
Ishant bowled sporadically through the day in four-over spurts, all flying hair and aggressive follow-through, generating pace and hurrying batsmen. After taking Srivastava's wicket yesterday, however, he could not break through today until the very end.
Heading towards tea, it was left-arm spinner Mishra who struck Kaif on his pads stretching forward to get the first wicket of the day. Sumit Narwal then got one past Dagar, clattering his stumps with one over left before the break.
It must be noted that in keeping with the general tone of this contest, of the five UP wickets to fall today, four went to bowlers no one had paid any attention to at the start of this game.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo