Bowlers prosper on helpful Roshanara pitch
Delhi 60 for 3 (Fallah 2-23) trail Maharashtra 196 (Bawne 58, Narwal 3-35) by 136 runs
Delhi v Maharashtra might not be the most enticing of domestic match-ups. But the Roshanara Club Ground was not about to offer up a dreary day of domestic cricket; on day one there were 13 wickets, a ball that swung and seamed, and batsmen who were left searching for answers or at least a passable defensive technique.
Plus, for comic relief, came one run-out from each side that, it can most definitely said, was courtesy brain fades.
Delhi would have been pleased at having dismissed Maharashtra for 196 fifteen minutes before tea. At stumps though, they were60 for 3 against an attack that fits more into the dibbly-dobbly category than that of pace demons. This is what the Roshanara does.
The Roshanara Club (established in 1922, as they proudly say everywhere) is set in one corner of sprawling Mughal gardens ordered to be built by Roshanara Begum, daughter of emperor Shah Jahan and sister of Aurangzeb. With its ring of trees, it is the most soothing of settings, ideally suited for those somnolent Ranji draws where only first-innings points matter.
Roshanara, however, say the history books, was a woman of much intrigue; in cricket, this is where anything can happen. Anything meaning results. It is where Delhi comes for 'outrights' and teams know that the margins of defeat depend largely on how much the batsmen can eke out against the relentless onslaught of seam and swing bowlers. Both Delhi and Maharashtra went in with four medium pacers and part-time spin as an afterthought.
The best assessment came from 19-year-old top-scorer Ankit Bawne who, slotting in at No. 4 for Maharashtra, batted for more than two and a half hours for his 58. Asked about the approach the middle-order batsmen took here, he said: "Here top order, middle order doesn't matter. I was batting in the fifth over."
It was the seventh over, actually, but with two wickets falling in three balls, Bawne can be excused for losing track of things. Sumit Narwal had come in first change for Delhi, replacing the wildly wayward Pavan Suyal, and showed the younger men of the Delhi attack how to bowl on this pitch.
Delhi's bowling coach Robin Singh Jr watched with approval as Narwal tightened his noose, picking up three wickets in his opening spell. His advantage in the conditions, Singh Jr said, was his ability to make the most of the grass on the track, maximising seam movement and showing the discipline to not waver in length.
His control of proceedings was a notch above that of the three younger men he was bowling alongside. Suyal had opened the bowling but took his time to hit the fullish areas from where questions are asked, conceding 18 in his first three overs. He had some rhythm in his second spell and his first wicket came only almost at the end of the Maharashtra innings when Bawne's slash went through to the keeper. Vikas Tokas, on debut for Delhi, generated reasonable pace and bounce, but had difficulty with his lenghts. Sangwan ran into no-ball difficulties, bowling Anupam Sanklecha off a no-ball, and ended up with 2 for 54 off 12.
The two best balls of the day, however, came from Maharashtra's Samad Fallah, whose trundled in off a short run-up to bowl ten overs on the go. Unmukt Chand saw one shape into him and when lining up to play his stroke, had it swerve away and cannon into the stumps. One over later, Mohit Sharma shouldered arms to a ball that jagged back in and left him red-faced.
With its frequent demands on the batting, what the Roshanara can also do is turn batsmen's minds to jelly, making him eager to get to the opposite end. Srikanth Mundhe and Shikhar Dhawan ran themselves out when looking as reasonably set as anyone can be. Mundhe had batted for nearly an hour and a half with Bawne, putting up a 64-run seventh-wicket partnership. Then, he hit the ball straight to covers and hared off down the pitch. Bawne couldn't stop him in time and Narwal at covers fired the ball to the keeper.
A few hours later it was Shikhar Dhawan done in by the Maharashtra nagging. Dhawan was in control of his surroundings, hitting two lofted but confident drives over a diving cover. But his ambition to complete a sharp single to mid-off ended with a direct hit from Mundhe to send him packing.
At stumps, Narwal surveyed this bowler's haven and said the Roshanara was made for these all-or-nothing games. The lighest of breeze kept coming through the trees, the grass on the pitch worked for the seamers and the overcast conditions of a Delhi winter gave the bowlers an added blessing. "The ball's going to move on all four days," Narwal said. "This is going to be a tight game." That is, if it lasts four days.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo