Chand fifty takes Delhi to final
Delhi 201 for 4 (Chand 80*) beat Himachal Pradesh 200 for 9 (Bipul 51, Rana 2-16, Bhatti 2-36, Negi 2-36) by six wickets
Delhi will play their second Vijay Hazare Trophy final after a comfortable, six-wicket victory over Himachal Pradesh in Bangalore. The last time Delhi set up a summit clash was quite recent too - in 2012-13 - and they won it.
The difference between both teams was the contrast in their batting styles. While Delhi were assured and always in control, Himachal were subdued and impatient and could only muster 200 for 9 after being put in to bat.
No one epitomised Delhi's confidence as much as Unmukt Chand, who became the first batsman from his team to cross 300 runs in the tournament. His unbeaten 80 today included nine boundaries and was his third fifty-plus score in List A cricket this season.
Chand had walked in after Rishabh Pant became the first wicket to fall, but not before the opener had set the tone for the chase with three crunching fours in the first three overs.
Chand too began with a solid straight drive, then moved inside the line of another fuller ball for a flick to the fine leg boundary and capped the series off by skipping down the pitch for a six over long-on. Ronit More was the bowler being targeted; he bowled only eight balls to Chand but gave away 16 runs.
Chand's positivity was apparent even in the break between overs during chats with senior partner Shikhar Dhawan, who joined in the early fun and punished Himachal's 20-year old medium-pacer Pankaj Jaiswal for trying to bowl short. Delhi collected eight fours and a six in the first 10 overs to set up a strong foundation to their chase.
Himachal did have a chance to turn things around. A lapse in concentration resulted in Shikhar playing on to Bipul Sharma's left-arm spin in the 18th over. Delhi captain Gautam Gambhir misread the line of one from part-time spinner Nikhil Gangta and was trapped leg before, continuing a dismal season with the bat - he averages 24.85 after eight matches with only one fifty. Milind Kumar lifted Himchal's spirit further when he was run out by Ankush Bains in the 29th over.
But Chand was still out there and he remained in charge. Barring a misjudged sweep against Bipul when he was on 55, he dominated the Himachal bowling and sealed the chase without any further hiccups.
That Himachal even managed to get to 200, and last the 50 overs, was because of an aggressive half-century from their captain Bipul. He made 51 off 45 balls, the only man from the team to have a strike rate better than 100 on condition of at least five balls faced.
Bipul had walked in with his team on 98 for 4 in the 31st over. Allrounder Rishi Dhawan had just got out for 9. The other two batting mainstays - Robin Bist and Paras Dogra - did not make much of an impact either.
So it was down to Bipul to provide some substance to the innings. His first boundary came off a back cut against Pawan Negi. Then Bipul went with the turn and lofted the left-arm spinner for a straight six. Next Nitin Saini was taken for consecutive fours, and Nitish Rana's offspin was launched down the ground for another maximum.
His third six - straight again, off medium-pacer Subodh Bhatti - brought up the fifty partnership with No. 9 Mayank Dagar off only 46 balls. A dab into the off side for a single brought Bipul his first fifty in the tournament. But the enterprise he showed was absent in the rest of the Himachal batting line-up.
Rishi Dhawan, who is part of the India squad for ODI series in Australia, punched the back of his bat in disgust after he was bowled attempting to sweep across the line of a straight delivery from Negi. Bist, who hit a match-winning century against Punjab in the quarter-final, nicked off when Saini was able to get one to move away off the straight.
Dogra, Himachal's most experienced batsman, was a victim of impatience. He had been part of a slow partnership - 45 off 78 balls - with opener Prashant Chopra who struggled to shift gears during his 33 off 69 balls. Chopra failed to capitalise and cut straight to point, the pressure slowly increased and Dogra, 28 off 64 balls at the time, succumbed to it when he played a half-hearted loft against Negi and was caught at long-off.
Himachal could only put up 77 after 25 overs in their first innings, and it was this conservative approach with the bat that proved fatal for them.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo