Delhi v Orissa, Ranji Trophy Super League, Delhi, 2nd day November 30, 2008

Narwal inspires Delhi to maiden win

Delhi 78 (Khatua 3-17, B Mohanty 3-26, D Mohanty 3-25) and 150 (Narwal 66, D Mohanty 4-31, Khatua 4-58) beat Orissa 80 (Ishant 7-24, Awan 2-1) and 96 (Ishant 4-27, Narwal 3-25) by 52 runs

Ishant Sharma finished the match with 11 wickets © AFP

Dropped catches don't come more poignant. With Delhi at 102 for 8, Niranjan Behera dropped a sitter from Sumit Narwal at deep fine leg. Orissa got a wicket next ball, but Narwal went on to score a match-changing unbeaten half-century. Had Orissa taken that catch, they might have been chasing 101, and in the end they were bowled out for 96 on a wet and green pitch that claimed 40 wickets in 128.5 overs. While Orissa were left to rue that missed chance, Delhi got their season back on track, taking five points, and also dangerous momentum, with them.

Narwal has proved to be a prized investment for Delhi. He started his career with Haryana, and was out of the team since 2003 before Delhi picked him for the semi-final against Baroda last year, where he took four wickets on the first morning. Now, when Delhi were in danger of being knocked out of the tournament, and also being humiliated by Orissa, Narwal came good again.

Narwal, a right-arm swing bowler and a handy left-hand batsman down the order, looked the most confident and clear-minded batsman among the 22 on show. When he came in, Delhi had lost two wickets in three balls to be reduced to 49 for 6. He hadn't even faced a ball before Rajat Bhatia followed Virender Sehwag and Puneet Bisht, and Delhi looked set for another score in the vicinity of their first-innings 78. The bowlers were fresh, the pitch hadn't improved a touch, but Narwal took the best approach in such circumstances: look to score off every opportunity, because the eventual wicket-taking delivery is never far away.

The wicket-taking delivery never came for Narwal, and he made merry. He got solid support from Pradeep Sangwan, and the two added 34 in 9.3 overs, with Sangwan getting most of the strike. They took Delhi to the highest team total of the match till then, 83. Narwal had reached 16 off 26 deliveries when Sangwan edged Sukanta Khatua to the keeper, and that dismissal was the signal for Narwal to go for everything. He pulled Khatua for a boundary, but the bowler could have had his own back when Narwal top-edged him to deep fine leg, where Behera dropped a fairly easy catch. Khatua got Ishant Sharma next ball, but the drop would come back to sting Orissa.

Narwal was completely transformed, stepping out to and pulling the medium-pacers with disdain. He hit Khatua for three sixes in an over, two of them lofted after walking down the track, and one a low flat pull over square leg. For the first time in the match, there were defensive fields because Orissa wanted to keep Narwal away from the strike. He didn't lose his cool. He would block four deliveries, wait for the field to come up, and then go over the top. At 10.2 overs, this was the longest partnership of the match, and at 47 runs, the biggest. Parvinder Awana, the No. 11, got only one of those runs. Vijay Dahiya, Delhi's coach, later said Narwal's batting, especially being a left-hander, was the reason he was picked.

When a team is defending 148, regardless of the kind of pitch, one big partnership is enough for panic to set in. Delhi, though, didn't have to worry about that. Narwal carried on the flow from his batting exploits, opened the bowling and struck in his second over, getting an edge from Bikash Pati, who scored a brisk 32 in the first innings. Shiv Sunder Das got off the dreaded pair, but perhaps got a rough decision from the umpire. Ishant got one to jag back into him, and he was given out lbw. The sound of wood was heard throughout the stadium.

There was little resistance from the middle order, as the new-ball pair of Narwal and Ishant struck thrice in four overs to leave them at 30 for 5. Halhadar Das, the wicketkeeper, tried to hit out of the situation, but his partnership with P Jayachandra hadn't even reached threatening proportions when he played a shot too many and was bowled by Awana.

Only the tea break and some light-meter inspections delayed the inevitable result as Orissa fell way short of the target. Ishant took four wickets, Narwal three, and Awana two.

For Orissa this defeat will be déjà vu. Last year, they had surprised everybody by coming close to the semi-final spot going into the last two rounds. In their penultimate match, against Punjab, they had even taken a first-innings lead, but slumped to 76 all out in their second and lost out on a slot in the final four, which was just a draw away. This time too, had they won against Delhi, which they came close to in conditions tailor-made for Ishant, they would have been in shouting distance.

Delhi won't be complaining, though, as this win takes them up to 11 points. They are still behind Mumbai, Saurashtra and Gujarat, all of whom have a game in hand, but they are in a much better state than two days ago. The other positive for them is that they play bottom-placed Rajasthan next, and then Saurashtra, who are likely to be one of the teams in contention for the semi-finals.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo