New Delhi: Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag couldn't stand up and be counted when it mattered the most as Punjab recorded one of the most inspiring victories in recent times beating Delhi by 98 runs in a Ranji Trophy group league game to keep their quarterfinal hopes alive.
Chasing a target of 327, Delhi were all out for 228 on the final day with Rajat Bhatia scoring a gutsy hundred on a difficult track.
Punjab will take a lot of positives from this game as despite being shot out for 74 in the first innings, they came back to win the match.
Punjab now have 23 points from seven games and will be aiming for six points as they try to get a last-eight berth.
For Delhi, it's almost end of the road as they are at fifth place with 19 points and even an outright win with bonus points against Karnataka won't ensure a knock-out berth.
Delhi began the day at 60 for three and Gambhir (30) poked at an away going delivery from Manpreet Gony to Gurkeerat Singh in the slip-cordon.
Virender Sehwag (12) played a nice drive off Gony and also fended a short ball that sailed over slips for another four. But he again disappointed trying to hit Jaskaran Singh over mid-on. However, trying to check his shot, the ball just lobbed towards mid-on for a simple catch.
With Gambhir and Sehwag out in the first session, Delhi were reduced to 82 for five. But nightwatchman Ashish Nehra (16, 128 balls) showed a lot of character as he was involved in a 82-run partnership for the fifth wicket with Bhatia.
Bhatia, who hit his 14th first-class hundred, faced 182 balls laced with 16 fours in the process.
Once off-spinner Gurkeerat Singh removed Nehra and wicketkeeper-batsman Rahul Yadav (0) off successive deliveries, victory was just a matter of time. It was Bhatia, who was the last man to be dismissed when he edged a Gony delivery to wicketkeeper Gitansh Khera. Opener Jiwanjot Singh, whose century was the game changer, said that it was satisfying to score a ton that helped Punjab in such a big victory.
"Our hopes of qualifying for the quarterfinals are alive after this win. This century is satisfying as the wicket was difficult to bat on and the opposition had quality bowlers. Also a lot of people said that opposition will sort me out in my second season. So it was a big boost to my confidence. Also words of encouragement from coach Bhupinder Singh Senior helped," Jiwanjot told reporters at the end of the match.
Bhatia, who batted with lot of focus despite taking a lot of blows on the body, said that not being able to score more than 150 in the first innings hurt Delhi.
"When we had the opponents out for 74, we shouldn't have taken the foot off the pedal. We had no business to get only 76-run first innings lead. The wicket was difficult but we should have at least scored more than 200. That would have released the pressure," a dejected Bhatia said.
Asked about the number of blows he took on his body with a swollen forearm showing the pain that he sustained, the all-rounder said, "I took four blows on my body while they were bowling. The most painful one was the fifth, which is this defeat. This is something that I am finding difficult to digest."
Punjab: 74 & 402
Delhi: 150 & 228 (Rajat Bhatia 100, Virender Sehwag 12, Gautam Gambhir 30, Yuvraj Singh 3/45, MS Gony 3/51).
Punjab won by 98 runs. Points: Punjab 6; Delhi 0.