Late wickets let Delhi back in
Powered by Praveen Kumar's eight-wicket haul and Suresh Raina's attacking 85, Uttar Pradesh threatened to take control of the game before the bowlers brought Delhi roaring back into the game in the final session of the third day's play at the Wankhede Stadium. Praveen Kumar swung UP to a 52-run lead and Raina, dropped on 20, extended it further but four quick wickets saw Delhi restrict UP to a 206-run lead but with four wickets still standing, the fourth day's play promises to be a cracking affair.
UP was leading by 175 runs at tea, with eight wickets intact, but were done in by a combination of disciplined bowling, injudicious shot-selection and the famous Marine-Drive high tide . The ball started to dip in late for a brief while in the last session and the batsmen perished one by one, pushing away from the body.
Mohammad Kaif edged an ambitious on-the-up drive while Raina, who was troubled by Sangwan a lot early in his knock, edged one to the keeper. Fellow left-hand batsmen Ravikant Shukla and Piyush Chawla too departed in the same manner. A healthy 123 for 2 had turned dramatically to 130 for 6 but Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Amir Khan ensured there wouldn't be further damage before close of play.
The game turned on several hinges and it was Praveen Kumar who first tilted it with the sixth-best ever-bowling performance in a Ranji final. He finished with 8 for 68 and will be pleased that he is the only medium-pacer in that elite bracket, the others were spinners - Rajinder Singh Hans (9 for 112 against Delhi in 1977-78), Padmalkar Shivalkar (8 for 16 against Tamil Nadu in 1972-73), Manohar Hardikar (8 for 39 against Bengal in 1955-56), HJ Vajifdar (8 for 40 against Northern India 1934-35) and Maninder Singh (8 for 54 against Haryana in 1985-86).
In an enthralling morning session, Praveen Kumar cut through Delhi's heart with a lovely exhibition of swing bowling, using the second new ball, and helped UP snatch a handy lead despite Rajat Bhatia's gritty unbeaten 139.
The new ball was taken after 13 overs - Delhi added 31 runs - and immediately, Praveen Kumar started to tease the batsmen with swing. He bent one back in to strike Chopra's pad but the impact was just outside off stump. He repeated the dose next ball and Chopra was caught plumb in front. Chopra had played a fabulous knock, steering Delhi out of trouble with an assured 102, but Praveen Kumar would feel he had the wood on him. Chopra had faced only nine deliveries during Praveen Kumar's swinging opening spell yesterday and succumbed to the second ball off him on the third day.
He also proved too hot for the lower-order batsmen. Puneet Bisht fell for a first-ball duck, shouldering arms to another inswinger, Sumit Narwal was done in by an around-the-stumps line and Praveen Kumar hastened the end by trapping Pradeep Sangwan and Amit Bhandari with late inswingers.
Bhatia, the other centurion, was left stranded but he had played a stellar role in taking Delhi close to the UP total. He had taken painkillers to play in this final after injuring his left hand - a hairline fracture is suspected - and fought bravely for 323 minutes. He added 23 runs with Sangwan and lashed 20 runs in a single over - three fours and a pulled six - from Bhuvneshwar Kumar to ensure Delhi faced only a moderate deficit.
Following the heroics of Praveen Kumar, UP began their reply in a positive fashion. Though they lost first-innings centurion Tanmay Srivastava for a duck - run out going for a non-existent single - Raina led the way with a whirlwind knock. He started off with four fours in the fourth over of the innings from Narwal yet survived quite a few scares, especially against Sangwan, early in his knock. He was beaten a few times - edges twice falling short of the slip cordon - and once when it carried Aakash Chopra failed to hold on to a diving chance off Sangwan at second slip.
Showing a penchant for on-the-up drives, Raina repeatedly bisected the off-side field and forced Mithun Manhas, the stand-in captain for the injured Gautam Gambhir, to post a man at deep point. But the bowlers were guilty of bowling a touch short and the runs kept flowing. Raina launched the legspin of Chetanya Nanda over long-on and with Mohammad Kaif for company, took UP to a strong position at the break.
But the Delhi bowlers triggered a mini-collapse to leave the game fascinatingly poised.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo