New Delhi: Delhi skipper Shikhar Dhawan led from the front and knocked off an unbeaten century (116*), his 16th in first-class cricket, as Delhi cantered home by seven wickets against Maharashtra on Tuesday at Roshanara Club ground. Chasing 270 on day four, Delhi lost Unmukt Chand in the fourth over of the day. He tried to cut Shrikant Mundhe but was not behind the line and the ball rolled onto the stumps after getting an inside edge.
Mohit Sharma, who was out for a duck in the first innings, was in fine touch and unfurled a string of boundaries while Dhawan played the second fiddle. Sharma cracked Mundhe for a boundary through cover and followed it with a crisp pull off Samad Fallah in the next over. Dhawan was streaky in the first session and was beaten umpteen times outside the off stump by Mundhe. Mundhe also troubled Sharma in his second spell and a couple of confident lbw appeals were turned down by umpires. Delhi reached 50 in 17.3 overs.
Dhawan, who was dour in the first hour of the morning session, broke the fetters later on and beat out a couple of boundaries - through extra cover and cover. Sharma continued to compile runs and cut Fallah to third man and square leg boundary in an over to reach his half-century. Fallah sallied back and removed Sharma in the next over as the ball hurried onto the batsman and trapped him in front of the stumps. At lunch, Delhi were 100-2 in 33 overs.
New batsman Mithun Manhas took charge after lunch and unleashed a rollicking cameo to put Delhi in the commanding position. He blasted two fours off Fallah - straight drive and flick - to set the ball rolling, and later belted Nikit Dhumal for three sixes, two in an over, as he stormed to 41 off 25 balls. Sixes were carved over long on, backward point and fine leg. Meanwhile, Dhawan carved Fallah to midwicket boundary - his fourth boundary - to reach his half-century which came off 120 balls.
In the next over, Manhas biffed Mundhe to long off boundary to brought up his fifty. It took him 35 balls and included five boundaries and three massive sixes. Manhas didn't last long after making an half-century and chased a wide ball of Mundhe which took an outside edge and Ankit Bawne at gully grabbed a simple catch. Both Sharma and Manhas made 51 runs each.
Vaibhav Rawal and Dhawan batted with maturity thereafter and knocked the ball around to settle for singles and doubles. Delhi reached 200 in 51.2 overs. Rawal was fortunate as he was dropped twice - by Bawne at gully and Kedar Jadhav at mid off - when he was batting on 16 and 25 respectively. Fallah and Sangram Atitkar were unlucky bowlers.
Dhawan grew in confidence as the innings progressed and adopted an aggressive approach after Delhi crossed 200. He pulled Anupam Sanklecha to midwicket boundary and hammered him between point and cover the next ball to rattle up another four. In the next over, Dhumal was smashed for a boundary through point. Dhumal turned out be mighty expensive as day four. After being pummelled by Manhas for three sixes and couple of boundaries, Dhawan also tore into him. His bowling analysis of the innings were 8-1-58-0.
K Jadhav had a torrid day in the field as after dropping Rawal, he gave Dhawan, who was batting on 91, a reprieve. The left-hander tried to loft Atitkar over mid off but mistimed the ball but Jadhav spilled the ball after getting both hands to it. Dhwan made good use of the opportunity, and in the next over cut the offspinner Chirag Khurana to third man boundary to reach 99. He pushed the next ball to mid off and ran a single to ring up his 16th first-class hundred, which came off 185 balls, in 79 matches.
Dhawan tonked Atitkar for a six over long off on the second ball of his next over to level the scores, and the next ball went for four byes which gave Delhi its second outright win of this Ranji Trophy season. They have 17 points from 7 matches and there's still a glimmer of hope that they can qualify for the knockouts.
Dhawan told reporters after the match that he has come of age and this innings counts as the finest of his first-class career. "This innings is truly special in the sense that we were chasing a good total on this wicket which is conducive for seamers. I remember that we lost to Railways a couple of years ago on the same ground chasing 130-odd. That match was at the back of my mind when I was batting and I was determined to see team home this time around. Given the circumstances and pressure, I rate this century as the finest of my first-class career. I think with age and experience, I've become more mature."
The 27-year-old asserted that thing became relatively easy after they negotiated the first session with dogged resolve. "The first session of the morning was crucial. After losing Unmukt Chand early, Vaibhav Rawal showed immense composure. He played some fine shots and we managed to forge a good partnership. Later Mithun bhaiya (Manhas) launched a stirring assault on bowlers after lunch which swung the momentum our way. He played a brilliant innings and from there on we knew that match is in our grip. All we had to do was to bat sensibly and calmly."
He expressed hope that Delhi will win their last group match against Vidarbha at Nagpur and will qualify for the quater-finals. "If you look at our performance this season, it hasn't been bad. We have scored more than 500 runs on a couple of occasions. It's just that a couple of matches didn't go our way. This victory against Maharashtra has given us a huge fillip and we can qualify for the knockouts if we win our last game comprehensively," he concluded.