Delhi face a daunting last-day challenge
Maharashtra 196 and 266 (Khadiwale 96, Bawne 55, Narwal 3-48) lead Delhi 193 by 269 runs
Delhi have not reached the Ranji Trophy knock-out for the last two seasons. Their only chance of doing so this year will come if, on Tuesday, they chase down their highest total at the Roshanara Club.
Maharashtra, 196 all out in their first innings after being put into bat, have come back into the match with a second batting performance that shook their fists at Delhi. What else would you call a target of 270 to win on a bowler's wicket?
All out for 266 in their second innings, Maharashtra made the most of a day of sunshine, a biting breeze and a wicket that had, relatively speaking, eased a tad. Delhi will have to deal with a target that is 100 runs more than they have successfully chased at this picturesque yet demanding venue.
In 2009-10, Delhi had gobbled down a total of 160 against Saurashtra by eight wickets. In the same season, they also scored 112 against Maharashtra at Roshanara. Besides those two successful fourth innings attempts, Delhi's fourth innings records at Roshanara largely go downhill.
There are, in theory, 98 overs to be bowled on Tuesday with play beginning at 9am and ending at 4:30pm. To start with, Delhi will have to bat longer than they have in their last five innings to have any chance of an outright win. In the ten innings they have played this season, Delhi have batted for less than 77 overs five times and less than 90 overs twice. On Tuesday, their batsmen will need to perform double-roles: that of resolute foot soldiers who refuse to yield inches or wickets and also traffic-stopping stroke-makers who can go after the asking rate for under-four runs an over. It is the tallest of orders.
On Monday, Maharashtra won both the inches and the yards, thanks to their opener Harshad Khadiwale's best performance of the season (96, 195b, 12x4). His team lost two wickets in the eighth over of the morning, to Sumit Narwal who, like in the first innings, trapped opener Virag Awate and No. 3 Sangram Atitkar in front. A 130-run partnership between Khadiwale and Ankit Bawne did not pass without incident which had an eventual effect on how the day panned out.
Bawne was dropped on 2 by Mohit Sharma leaping backwards at covers off Pavan Suyal. The two batsmen went on securely to lunch, after which Pradeep Sangwan had Khadiwale, caught behind by Punit Bisht on 68. Unfortunately, as happens very often with Sangwan, it was off a no-ball.
Bawne had tried to cut and flash against the quick bowlers three times before Delhi captain Shikhar Dhawan stationed a man at deep backward point. The fourth time, the upper cut off Vikas Tokas reached substitute Milind Kumar waiting on the fence. Tokas, the quickest of the Delhi bowlers, bowled a revved-up second spell (10-1-30-2) after lunch. Khadiwale, who said later he had tried to play closer to his body than he had in the first innings, stroked the ball with confidence. Until he entered his 90s.
It took him 34 balls to go from 90 to 94. In the meantime, he lost both Rohit Motwani and Kedar Jadhav for very little to left-armer Suyal. Turning cautious, he shouldered arms to Tokas and tried to let one go past him. He laughed later, saying that in a typical Roshanara event, the ball jagged back and took his off stump. "Here, you can get out any time."
Maharashtra were suddenly 170 for 6, but their lower order pulled and pushed them ahead. Chirag Khurana (38) and Srikanth Mundhe (33) made the most of the softer ball. Khurana added 67 with Mundhe for the seventh wicket and Mundhe's gusty 24-run stand with debutant Nikit Dhumal against the new ball took Maharashtra's lead to past 250. Sangwan eventually bowled Mundhe, not once but twice, the first being off a no-ball. It was the only moment of amusement Delhi would have had all day.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo