Powar puts Mumbai in charge
Mumbai 500 and 123 for 4 (Kukreja 71, Vikas Mishra 3-32) lead Delhi 211 (Bhatia 85, Powar 5-47) by 412 runs
Ramesh Powar turned this match in the second session with a spell of 5.3-3-9-5, virtually sealing Mumbai's entry into their second consecutive Ranji final. His five-for, the first by a Mumbai bowler this season, ended Delhi's efforts to ensure some parity in the contest and the defending champions ended the day with a 412-run lead.
Though Delhi picked up a couple of quick wickets as the shadows lengthened across Brabourne Stadium, the fightback came too late for the visitors, who were never able to gain a foothold in the match. On the first day Abhishek Nayar and Onkar Khanvilkar repaired the early damage and raised a platform for the lower order to push the score to 500; on Monday the Mumbai medium-pacers rattled the visitors' top order with incisive seam and swing bowling.
The onus on Tuesday morning was on the overnight pair of Shikar Dhawan and Rajat Bhatia to ensure Delhi did not lose their grip entirely. But Ajit Agarkar got rid of the dangerous Dhawan immediately, snaring him with a classic fast bowler's trap. He fired in a shorter delivery that Dhawan duly hooked for two runs. Immediately Agarkar moved the long-leg fielder slightly towards the deep square-leg, selling Dhawan the dummy. The next ball was fuller, pitched on a length, and Dhawan fished at it, but the ball moved away to take a thick outside edge on its way to Vinayak Samant behind the wicket.
Bhatia remained unruffled. His strengths have been perseverance and bloody-mindedness - the second characteristic is a Delhi cricketing trait but the first is not. When Agarkar tested him with a short one in the second over of the day, Bhatia immediately turned his hips to hook an effortless boundary, the first of the morning. When Usman Malvi pitched it fuller Bhatia punched a firm straight drive for another four. He brought up his fifty with an on-drive that rolled past the mid-wicket boundary as Malvi pitched full on his legs.
At the other end Gaurav Chhabra, who scored a crucial century in the quarterfinals, continued his good run, hitting some textbook drives and adopting an aggressive style to relieve the pressure. Half an hour before lunch Bhatia hoisted Powar over long-off for a huge six as Delhi finally seemed to start their rebuilding phase.
Mumbai captain Wasim Jaffer continued to deploy two slips and a gully for the fast bowlers in the second session. The plan was to attack the off stump and force the opponent to commit a mistake. But the wicket was on the drier side today and though Agarkar continued to bang it short both Chhabra and Bhatia were watchful. Chhabra smartly came up with a mixture of steers, glides and cuts to beat the Mumbai strategy. In the fifth over after lunch, when Agarkar overcompensated and sprayed it wide of off stump, Chhabra quickly stepped back to cut strongly twice in successive deliveries: the first was a miscue but the ball flew over the slips to the third man boundary but on the second occasion, the ball raced in front of square for four more.
In the next over, Bhatia slog-swept left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdulla over long on for his second six of the day. A glide past Jaffer, who was at second slip, got him into the 80s and the Mumbai captain was probably ruing the easy offering that he spilled Monday evening when Bhatia was on one.
But Powar, who had bowled a tight seven-over spell from the Pavilion End switched to the Churchgate End mid-way into the second session and it worked wonders. The pitch was taking decent turn and imparting considerable bounce but Powar, a classical offspinner, was not looking for assistance. Relying on loop and flight, he became increasingly accurate with every ball. Bhatia was tempted to slog-sweep one such loopy delivery but missed the line completely as the ball broke off the pitch and hit off stump.
A couple of balls later Powar pitched it on a length and Puneet Bisht stood his ground to defend, but was beaten by the turn and bowled. Powar was on a roll. In his next over he surprised Pradeep Sangwan by the bounce as the helpless batsman top-edged into the hands of Onkar Khanvilkar at forward short-leg. Ishant Sharma charged Powar casually and was stumped while Parvinder Awana top-edged a sweep to Jaffer. An excited Powar started celebrating as though he was in an aerobic class, and was joined by the entire team.
This was Powar's first five-for after a match-winning spell against Hyderbad last year in the league phase. He has missed three games this season with a side strain but has been at his attacking best since his return. Going into the quarterfinals he just had six wickets in five matches but he bounced back with four crucial wickets to quell Haryana's challenge and today he proved his worth once again.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo