UP push Delhi to a corner

Delhi were forced to dig deep to ward off defeat by a redoubtable Uttar Pradesh, who put up a determined all-round show on the third day of the Ranji Trophy contest.

The bleak hopes of an outright win are virtually over for Delhi, who are leading by mere 29 runs with six wickets in hand. A draw should make them happy.

Uttar Pradesh, despite some early setbacks in the morning, blossomed with an entertaining innings by Praveen Kumar (51 n.o. 57 balls, 5x4, 2x6) before folding up for 403 at the stroke of lunch with a lead of 168 runs.

If a vociferous Sunday crowd that had the stadium bursting at its seams nursed any hopes of remuneration from the Delhi stars for flopping in the first innings, they were in for another disappointment. 

Delhi’s intimidating batting line-up was swiftly trimmed to 146/4 and finally brought to the middle their skipper Virender Sehwag, who had been absent from the field owing to finger injury since Saturday afternoon.

Sehwag dispelled the doubts with his resolute 61-minute stay, batting on 21 off 44 balls that contained three fours when stumps were drawn. Giving the swashbuckling player company was the experienced Mithun Manhas (63, 91 balls, 10x4).

Delhi only had themselves to blame. They had made a slight recovery with three quick dismissals in the final session on the second day but could not press home the advantage.

A dense haze welcomed the teams with the hosts resuming at 292/6. Ashish Nehra (3-92) took three of the four remaining wickets, inducing edges from Amir Khan and Ali Murtaza during the first one hour. But after the initial bursts, Delhi allowed the last two wickets to raise 80 runs, with Praveen being the fulcrum.

Praveen’s half-century lit up the grey morning as he made a mockery of Delhi’s attack with spirited shot-making. He gathered 42 runs with overnight batsman Suresh Raina (55, 112b, 9x4) who played a freewheeling innings and later added 38 runs with Imtiaz  Ahmed (10).

Raina fell to Sumit Narwal (4-71) but Praveen continued undaunted and along with Imtiaz piled the agony on Delhi. He hit two towering sixes off Vikas Mishra to thrill the crowd.

Delhi, in reply, looked shaky. Unmukt Chand fell in the second over. Gautam Gambhir (47) and Virat Kohli (43) added 70 runs for the second wicket but their brief resistance was soon halted. Both were caught behind, Gambhir when trying to cut Ali Murtaza and Kohli off Bhuvneshwar. Delhi looked exposed and vulnerable. Manhas once again rose to the occasion and after the cheap dismissal of Puneet Bisht, looked to lend some stability to Delhi along with Sehwag.

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