Delhi v Tamil Nadu, Ranji Trophy, 2nd day November 24, 2006

Tamil Nadu nose ahead in attritional battle

Delhi 54 for 2 trail Tamil Nadu 347 (Badrinath 136, Vikram 52) by 293 runs

Gautam Gambhir missed a great chance to stake his claim © AFP

If Dilip Vengsarkar, who was in Delhi to watch this game, was specifically looking at a possible reserve opener for the Test series in South Africa, he would have been utterly disappointed by what he saw from Aakash Chopra and Gautam Gambhir. Forget about the pacy, bouncy tracks of Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg, a slow, low wicket at the Feroz Shah Kotla was enough to see the back of both openers with only 25 on the board, leaving Delhi in a spot of bother at 54 for 2 in response to Tamil Nadu's first-innings 347.

Gambhir and Chopra have been the talk of the newspapers in the lead-up to this match, and the anticlimax could not have been more stark. Gambhir failed to get his bat down in time to a ball that skidded through from D Tamil Kumaran, with just one run on the board. It was a wicket Tamil Nadu dearly wanted, for Gambhir rarely occupies the crease without scoring at a decent clip.

Although Kumaran picked up the first wicket, it was Vijaykumar Yomahesh who was a revelation. On a pitch where fast bowlers have struggled to generate any sort of carry or bounce, he consistently got the ball to climb on the batsmen. In each of his overs he bowled an effort ball or two, bending his back and beating the bat for pace. Eventually he was rewarded for his spell as Chopra nibbled at one outside off only for M Vijay at second slip to dive to his right and pluck a stunning catch.

Fortunately for them, Shikhar Dhawan and Mithun Manhas, coming together at 25 for 2, were able to see off the rest of the day without further loss. Dhawan, who had batted efficiently for 29, got more loose balls than he should have. At 54 for 2, though, with the ball still reasonably hard, the first hour on the third day could prove decisive.

When Tamil Nadu resumed, on 184 for 3, they needed to ensure that they pushed the score as close to 400 as possible. They would not have minded even if the run-rate was a little less, for that would mean more time out in the middle and give the pitch chance to wear out. S Badrinath, who played such a vital hand on the first day, continued from where he left off, but saw R Sathish fall early. Ashish Kapoor could only manage 14, and it suddenly looked as though Tamil Nadu would fold early, thereby nullifying the good work done on the first day.

It was then that Vikram Mani, the wicketkeeper-batsman making his Ranji debut, repaid the faith selectors had placed in him with an innings that made the difference between a low score and a decent one; a total that could be defended so long as the early breakthroughs came. Although he was struck on the knee twice, and looked in serious discomfort at one point, needing to receive treatment on the field, he batted with imagination and confidence.

He was able to strike the boundaries - seven in all - and made 52 critical runs at No. 6. While the rest of the lower order did not really score too much between them, they at least hung around long enough to let Mani do his thing.

When the Tamil Nadu team was finally bowled out, for 347, they might have felt that they were a few runs short. But the advantage they had was that the best batting conditions of this game are already gone. It was now up to the bowlers to maintain a straight line and generate pressure through tight overs. On this pitch it's unlikely that any bowler will run through a side, with wickets falling in a heap; a sort of surface that gives little to any type of cricketer. There was little value for strokes, no bounce for the fast bowlers to work with, and whatever turn there was on show was slow.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo