Tidy Maharashtra bowling dents Delhi
Maharashtra 3 for 0 and 196 (Bawne 58, Narwal 3-35) lead Delhi 193 (Rawal 65, Fallah 5-67, Dhumal 3-32) by six runs
Delhi needed two wins to give themselves a chance at squeezing into the Ranji knockouts. But at the Roshanara Club, they were far from a dominant position to force the win against Maharashtra. An unheralded bowling attack on a wicket that is made for accuracy and length had Delhi all out for 193 late into the second day. At stumps, Maharashtra were 3 for no loss.
In theory, Delhi can still win the match, as two innings have been completed and two days of play remain. Maharashtra's first innings lasted just over 55 overs, and Delhi's more lauded batting survived all of 77. It was proof enough of Maharashtra's control that the run-scoring was neither fluent nor easy.
This is a match played in fast forward, and so far, it appears Maharashtra's first innings may not mean much. They have the advantage, though, on two grounds.
First, they know that should bad weather wipe out chunks of the remaining two days, they have done enough to be the team ahead. Overnight rain and a morning shower delayed play by two hours this morning, and at stumps only 54 overs could be bowled in the day.
Secondly, at all costs, Delhi will have to win this match with the bat, chasing any half-reasonable target on a wicket that is made for bowlers with discipline and accuracy.
One of them would be left-arm pace bowler Samad Fallah, who picked up 5-67 in the 29 overs he bowled in three long spells of eleven, ten and eight overs running through the Delhi innings. It is his tenth five-wicket haul in his 40th first-class match, and not the first time he has bowled at the Roshanara. He picked up five wickets in his first match here two years ago and so knew how to bowl on this wicket.
When play resumed, Manhas and Rawal played for most part of an hour, before Manhas tried to force the issue, playing across the line to the parsimonious Fallah. He was the first wicket to fall in the day, but it was the departure of the other Delhi stalwart Rajat Bhatia that signalled the end of Delhi's frontline batsmen. Fallah came around the wicket to Bhatia and nibbled at his glove as he went forward defending, and wicketkeeper Motwani took the catch. He said his team thought of him as the bowler of the big wickets, and remembered getting Suresh Raina out for a duck against UP. "I relish the challenge of bowling to the best batsmen in a team. The others that are not that good, they play and miss."
The latter half of the Delhi innings was wrapped up by Nikit Dhumal, a debutant for Maharashtra in this game. It was a performance that Fallah appreciated. "Nikit made his debut in the under-25s for Maharashtra this season. And when we saw him here, it wasn't like he was making his debut at this level. He brought us back into this game."
Dhumal picked up the wickets of Delhi top scorer, Vaibhav Rawal, blocking off the midwicket, which produced a stylishly lofted flick that landed in the hands of Anupam Sankelcha at deep-backward square leg. He then removed Sumit Narwal and Pradeep Sangwan, bowlers who were capable of exuberant innings that could have shrunk the score. It would be possible to defend any sizeable target that Maharashtra can set Delhi. The reason said Fallah, with a smile, was "because they're desperate."
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo