L Balaji took five wickets as Tamil Nadu moved into the final of the Ranji Trophy with a convincing 132-run win over Delhi at the Ferozshah Kotla ground in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Balaji, commencing the bowling on the morning of the fifth and final day for the visitors, virtually put the issue beyond Delhi in his third over of the day by getting rid of overnight batsman Virender Sehwag with a perfect incutter that uprooted the dashing batsman's leg-stump.
Sehwag, who played beautifully yesterday for his unbeaten 98, was unlucky to miss his century by just one run as he was castled for 99.
Balaji, who is having a dream run with the ball this domestic season, finished with five for 49.
Sehwag's dismissal in the 41st over put paid to Delhi's slender hopes of making it to the final, as the hosts, chasing a target of 333, lasted a further 13 overs to be bowled out for 200.
In the final, Tamil Nadu will meet Mumbai, who inflicted an innings defeat on Baroda in the other semi-final on Saturday. The final would be played at Mumbai from May 5.
This was the seventh five-wicket haul in an innings for the 22-year old Balaji in this Ranji season. He has so far scalped 44 wickets from only six matches. His tally, which has come at a very good average of 12.75, also includes three match hauls of ten-wickets.
But for missed chances, the lanky fast bowler could have bagged a couple of more wickets in Delhi's second innings, which lasted only 67 minutes this morning.
Sarandeep Singh, who came in to bat after Sehwag's exit, was dropped at point by S Sriram when the batsman was yet to open his account.
Sriram's butter-fingered display also benefitted Sanjay Gill, whose lofted pull shot off Balaji was grassed in the deep mid-wicket region.
However, both the batsmen did not survive long to cause any worry for Tamil Nadu captain S Suresh, who chipped in with two wickets.
After the match, Suresh said he is quite happy with the team's performance in the semi-final.
"We played really well and everybody contributed in the win. It was indeed a fine show by the players as it is not easy to beat Delhi on their home soil."
The all-rounder, who shone both with the bat and ball in the match, lavished praise on Balaji for his match-winning performance.
"Balaji again proved that he is a class bowler. He has bowled beautifully throughout the season, and no doubt his performance in the semi-final played a significant role in our victory."
Earlier, resuming at the overnight score of 159 for five, Delhi suffered an early blow when first innings top-scorer N S Negi departed without adding anything to his overnight score of two.
Negi was dismissed on the fourth ball of the morning when he was stuck on the pad by a Balaji in-cutter that kept quite low. The umpire had no hesitation in giving him out leg before as Delhi slumped to 159 for six.
Sehwag, who stood tall amidst the ruins yesterday with some breath-taking shots for his unbeaten 98, failed to score a century yet again.
The last century for Sehwag at any form of the game came in early January when he scored 112 against New Zealand in the sixth one-day international at Auckland, which India won by a narrow one wicket margin.
He had a mediocre World Cup in South Africa, where India finished second behind Australia. His highest score in the mega tournament was 82 made against Australia in the final.
He stayed at the crease for six more balls today and added only a single to his overnight score before getting out.
Sarandeep Singh's 40 minutes stay at the crease yielded 10 runs which included one boundary before he was dismissed giving a catch to Vidyut Shivramkrishnan off Suresh.
Suresh also claimed the wicket of Rahul Sanghvi, who struggled to make 13 before being snapped by wicketkeeper P Raju.
The entire team erupted in joy and hugged each other when last-man Gill was caught at deep mid-wicket by substitute fielder D J Gokulakrishnan off Vidyut Shivramkrishnan.
Tamil Nadu (1st innings): 327
Delhi (1st innings): 256
Tamil Nadu (2nd innings): 261
Delhi (2nd innings): (overnight 159 for five)
A Chopra c Badani b Balaji 12
G Gambhir c sub (Badrinath) b Balaji 0
V Sehwag b Balaji 99
M Manhas c Raju b Balaji 4
V Kumar b Dhandapani 23
V Dahiya c Suresh b Shivramkrishnan 3
N S Negi lbw Balaji 2
Sarandeep Singh c Shivramkrishnan b Suresh 10
R Sanghvi c Raju b Suresh 13
S Gill c sub (G'krishnan) b Shivramkrishnan 10
A Bhandari not out 4
Extras: (lb-6, b-5, w-5, nb-4) 20
Total: (all out, 53.3 overs) 200
Fall of wickets: 1-12, 2-22, 3-26, 4-96, 5-132, 6-159, 7-163, 8-178, 9-189.
Bowling: Balaji 16-4-49-5, Srinivas 8-3-22-0, Sarvanan 2-0-13-0, Suresh 9-3-40-2, Dhandapani 6-2-23-1, Sivaramakrishnan 12.3-1-42-2.