Awana hat-trick seals easy win for Delhi
Delhi 409 and 51 for 3 (Agharkar 2-14) beat Maharashtra 219 and 240 (Kanitkar 50, Awana 4-62, Nanda 4-70) by seven wickets
In three successive devastating deliveries, Parvinder Awana, playing his second first-class match, ended the resistance Maharashtra had put up for 35 overs and set Delhi on their way to an outright win. Needing just 51 to win on a difficult track, Delhi proceeded to lose three wickets but in the end managed to gain a two-point lead over their opponents, second on the list.
Awana's hat-trick, the 44th in the Ranji Trophy, came after Yogesh Takawale and Vishal Bhilare had put on 100 for the fifth wicket and were in the middle of a scrap for a draw, which would get them one point. But Awana, fast and accurate, removed Bhilare, Kedar Jadhav and Sairaj Bahutule in three deliveries to end the contest right there. 202 for 4, a lead of 12, became 202 for 7, and the last three wickets fell for 38 runs.
For 25 overs today, resuming at 129 for 4, Takawale and Bhilare looked at ease. The wicket misbehaved, but they had negotiated it well. Then, in the 26th over, Awana's seventh of the day, he got the first ball from around the stumps to Bhilare to stay low, at a good pace, and beat his defence. The umpire had no hesitation in upholding the appeal. Jadhav, the right-hand batsman, got a mirror image of that from over the stumps, this one only looked even more adjacent. For Bahutule, Awana went around again, and produced the best ball one could on a hat-trick. He hit the same length from where the ball acted funnily throughout the game, and got it to straighten just enough to hit the top of off stump.
Awana became the fourth Delhi bowler to take a Ranji hat-trick, after Ravinder Pal, Bishan Bedi, and Shankar Saini. This was also the second hat-trick in this round of Ranji matches, as Kerala captain Sony Chevathur took one against Gujarat earlier. Awana was the winner of the ESPN Scorpio Speedster, a reality contest for pace bowlers, in 2003-04.
The triple blow was a bit too much for the young Maharashtra side, which was left rattled. Earlier, Takawale and Bhilare had played out the 25 most sensible overs of the match. Firstly they made sure they moved on the front foot to negate the ones that kept low from a good length. The ones that kicked from there, they played with soft hands and managed to keep them on the ground. While they defended well, they kept going for their strokes too. Takawale was impressive in driving through the covers, while Bhilare was good with the lofted shots. Takawale square-drove Awana to get to his fifty and ensure Delhi batted again.
Chetanya Nanda suddenly started to look more effective and got Takawale (75) leg before with one that kept a touch low. Salil Agharkar, who scored a quick 17, was bowled by Nanada.
With 50 to defend, Maharashtra didn't give the fight up. Agharkar, the left-arm spinner who took five in the first innings, bowled the first over and got Aakash Chopra stumped in his second. With that Delhi lost out on the bonus point. Samad Fallah struck in the next over as he had Shikhar Dhawan leg before. Virender Sehwag surprisingly did not come into bat at the fall of these two wickets, as Rajat Bhatia and Mayank Tehlan were sent in. Bhatia followed soon in a bat-pad dismissal, with Delhi's score at 20. Mithun Manhas was sent in to replace Bhatia and he and Tehlan batted out the tense period and made sure Sehwag was not required.
With this win, Delhi moved into the lead in Group A with 17 points, while Maharashtra stayed at second with their tally of 15. If Mumbai beat Rajasthan outright in Jhalawar, they will be joint second with Maharashtra with two matches to go.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo