Delhi 225 (Rana 44, Shukla 3-60) beat Jharkhand 126 (Dhoni 70*, Bhati 4-21 Saini 3-21) by 99 runs
MS Dhoni showed glimpses of his best during his 70 not out on the burning deck, but opening bursts from Navdeep Saini and Ishant Sharma helped Delhi comfortably defend what looked like a modest score of 225 in the second quarter-final of Vijay Hazare Trophy, played at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. It wasn't an easy pitch to bat on, but Delhi would have been disappointed with the score, especially after an opening stand of 53. Saini and Ishant, though, made full use of variable bounce and pace in the pitch by running through the Jharkhand top order. Dhoni waged a lone struggle from 9 for 4, looking to bat deep into the innings, but ran out of partners.
Varun Aaron had won the toss and asked Delhi to bat in a bid to exploit the 9am start, but the batting seemed the easiest in the morning. Debutant wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant, who will be India's vice-captain in the Under-19 World Cup, set a foundation with Shikhar Dhawan as both the Jharkhand new bowlers erred in line often to allow the openers easy boundaries. In contrast to Dhawan, Pant showed favour for the on side, and struggled to play forcefully on the off. The two, however, struggled to rotate the strike, as a result of which they went at only four an over, despite all the big shots.
With the introduction of spin the variable pace began to show, and although Aaron went out for the toss, Dhoni took charge of the team. Five wickets fell for 47 runs including that of Delhi captain Gautam Gambhir who was caught sleeping while taking a single, and was left stunned by a throw at his end. Nitish Rana then repaired the innings in the company of Manan Sharma. The pair added 74 in 18 overs, but more importantly provided Pawan Negi the license to hit in the end. The three spinners used by Jharkhand gave away only 85 runs in 23 overs, but Rana, who scored 44 off 76, made sure Delhi could go after the quicks.
Negi did that with aplomb as the wides and the extras mounted. Negi hit three fours and three sixes in his 16-ball 38 as Delhi struck 51 in the last five overs. The total, though, would have begun to look paltry if Jharkhand had put together one decent partnership at the top. However, their top order couldn't handle the pace of Delhi's opening bowlers and trickery of the pitch. Ishank Jaggi fell in the first over, playing all around a full ball from Saini. In the second over, Ishan Kishan, who will lead India in the Under-19 World Cup, did the same to one short-of-a- length ball from Ishant Sharma.
It wasn't the wicket-taking deliveries that represented the true nature of the pitch. Instead, it was the ones in between that would either fly through to the keeper or bounce well short. Even in the first innings Dhoni had to repeatedly pull out his famous legs-together stops. However, the exits of Saurabh Tiwary and Kumar Deobrat were meek. Tiwary drove to extra cover, giving a head-high catch, and Deobrat fended awkwardly at Ishant to get caught at short leg.
Then it seemed clear that Dhoni wanted to take the game as deep as possible. He found some support from Kaushal Singh and Ankit Dabas through 23-run partnerships, but their resistance didn't last long enough. At 55 for 6 Dhoni began to farm the strike a bit, but wickets kept falling. He brought out the big hits in the end, sending left-arm spinner Manan twice into the stands, reaching the highest individual score of the match.
Dhoni's blows brought some entertainment to the sparse Chinnaswamy faithfuls in the P4 Stand. In isolation, the cat-and-mouse game between Dhoni's advances and Manan's darts made for good fun. Despite just the last man for company, Dhoni kept clearing the field, hitting Ishant for two sixes and a four in one over.
A shrewd Gambhir then reacted by bringing on Negi to bowl darts into the pads from over the wicket. The 25-year-old Suboth Bhati, who took three lower-order wickets, went on to impress by not letting Dhoni get under his slowish yorkers. He ended the match with an lbw verdict against Vikash Singh, although the batsman had hit the ball. Dhoni was left stranded, with a teasing thought in the mind: what if there had been some more support from the other end.