Manhas, Dhawan power Delhi to win
Delhi 193 (Rawal 65, Fallah 5-67) and 273 for 3 (Dhawan 116*, Manhas 51, Mohit 51) beat Maharashtra 196 (Bawne 58, Narwal 3-35) and 266 (Khadiwale 96, Bawne 55) by seven wickets
In the normal order of things, Shikhar Dhawan is all flashing neon-light and Mithun Manhas the steady, constant beam. Not on Tuesday and not at the Roshanara, which is most certainly not a normal sort of Delhi Ranji venue either.
Dhawan and Manhas, current and former captain, switched batting personalities on Tuesday and delivered for Delhi a seven-wicket victory over Maharashtra at the Roshanara Club Ground in their penultimate Ranji group game. Their third-wicket partnership of a run-a-ball 83 ensured that Delhi got past the target of 270 at a gallop, the match ending fifteen minutes before tea. The threat of slow over-rates and fading light was banished in a flourish of audacious and attractive strokemaking.
Dhawan said later that he remembered his performance in a tight chase two seasons ago when Delhi were all out for 113, chasing 136 versus Railways. Dhawan wanted and was able to wipe that memory away. "Maybe today's innings reminded me how much I have matured from those days," he said. Dhawan's was a very well-paced innings, sticking through the first session alongside fellow left-hander Mohit Sharma who fluctuated between reasonable aggression and hazardous ambition. What he did do was to get to 51 and put up 94 with Dhawan.
In the morning, Delhi had asked for the heavy roller but when the ball began keeping low, Dhawan was watchful. He played the waiting game and turned the singles over, freeing his shoulders and hitting Srikanth Mundhe through extra cover for his first boundary, after 55 balls.
Charging out to the medium-pacers and hitting them on either side of the wicket messed the bowlers' lengths. By lunch, Dhawan was in cruise control. Dhawan was joined by Mohit at the loss of Unmukt Chand's wicket in fourth over of the morning, Chand chopping the ball onto the stumps. From then on, Delhi's next partnerships were 94, 83 and an unbeaten 91, Dhawan involved in all of them. His innings is another reminder that he has been one of the season's most prolific openers, coming into the Ranji Trophy with 600 domestic runs already to his name. He has now added another 431.
The launch pad for Delhi's victory came after lunch when Manhas decided to turn his batting approach in this game upside down. On Sunday, he had batted for more than two and a half hours for 28 - all that grafting with so little to show for it. When he came to bat, his back was sore and he had in front of him two relatively inexperienced Maharashtra bowlers. "After the first innings, I thought I really should have played more shots," he said.
So Manhas played shots never expected from his otherwise sedate self, which the Maharashtra debutant Nikit Dhumal - and everyone watching - will always remember. His first six went over wide long-off, the second was a full-blooded upper cut and the third an even more fearsome hook. No wonder wise folk always say, beware the fury of the patient man. Manhas is Delhi's top scorer this season, with 688 runs including two centuries and five fifties.
In 15 overs after lunch, Delhi had scored 92 runs. Manhas said, "That played on them, you could see it. Maybe my sore back helped me to play with freedom." It certainly helped sent a message to Maharashtra that their race was already run.
Delhi have shot into third place in Group B with a total of 17 points, but have only one game left, like Baroda, who are tied with table- toppers Uttar Pradesh on 21. While UP and Baroda appear fairly secure at the top, the three other teams are also within theoretical distance of grabbing a spot in the knockouts - Odisha (16 points), Karnataka (14 points) and Tamil Nadu (13 points) - have two matches left.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo