Delhi collapse to hand ROI trophy
The challenge facing Delhi on the fourth day - they needed 265 runs with seven wickets in hand - was always going to stretch them, and their batsmen, with the exception of Gautam Gambhir, caved without a fight. They were bowled out within the first session: Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh exploited the cracks in the pitch to pick up seven wickets, and Rest of India won the Irani Cup for the 21st time by 187 runs in Vadodara.
The slide started in the second over of the day. Gambhir had batted aggressively on the third evening and needed a stable partner. Aakash Chopra, who had not opened because of an ankle injury, joined him with a runner. He had scored 182 in last week's Nissar Trophy and a confident 42 in the first innings against a versatile and experienced attack. Chopra's resistance in the second innings, however, ended with his first ball. He drove away from his body at a Zaheer Khan delivery and inside-edged it on to his stumps.
Kumble brought Harbhajan on inside the first hour to take advantage of the wearing pitch and the offspinner struck immediately. Mithun Manhas tried to pad a delivery but the ball turned into him, deflected off the bat handle, and went to Rahul Dravid at first slip. The only point of interest after that was whether Gambhir, who scored steadily despite the regular setbacks, would reach his century. He fell on 91, edging an attempted cut off Kumble to Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
This was the last opportunity for the national players to get match practice ahead of the Tests against Australia and coach Gary Kirsten would have expected more. Before the start of the game he, and Kumble, had said this game was an important component in their preparation for the Australia series and each individual had a role to fulfill and understood it well.
If Sourav Ganguly doesn't make the Test squad, it will open up a vacancy in the middle order. Two of the contenders for the spot, S Badrinath and Mohammad Kaif, had the opportunity to push their claims in the Irani Cup but failed to turn in convincing performances. Badrinath looked in discomfort in the first innings and did not move his feet. He made a scratchy 16 off 62 balls before he was bowled while trying to cut. He was more confident during his 36 in the second innings before he was struck on the elbow and bowled once again by Ishant Sharma.
Kaif had made adjustments to his batting stance after chats with Kirsten but met with little success. He failed to convert a start in the first innings, top-edging a pull to midwicket, and edged a scorcher from Ishant off his second ball in the second innings.
One of the biggest positives was the performance of the bowlers. Zaheer Khan bowled wicket-to-wicket and focused on the batsman's weaknesses: he exploited Sehwag's slow footwork and trapped him lbw with one that cut in during the second innings. Ishant was hostile and extracted pace and bounce from a slow pitch, Munaf Patel proved his recovery was on the right path, while both Kumble and Harbhajan showed how dangerous they could be on a helpful surface. Only RP Singh was erratic with his line and length.
The most significant outcome from this game, however, was the resolute batting of Rahul Dravid, who opened for Rest of India. His poor form over the last year has hurt India but here he succeeded in the most demanding of situations. As the wicket grew slower, Dravid stuck it out for nearly five hours in the second innings. He played the majority of the deliveries confidently, used soft hands to block short balls aimed at the body, and waited for the bowler to feed his strengths.
It was the sort of preparation Dravid would have hoped for ahead of the Australia series and it was a terrific example of mental discipline for the rest to follow.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo