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Devashish Fuloria in Surat
November 8, 2013
Delhi 195 for 4 (Manhas 85*, Manan 59*, Akshar 3-24) trail Gujarat 320 (Rao 107, Narwal 6-71) by 125 runs
The failures of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir had left Delhi in a precarious position in Surat but Mithun Manhas and Manan Sharma thwarted Gujarat's probing bowling on a testing pitch. Their unbroken 146-run stand gave Delhi a chance to pull close to Gujarat's first-innings total of 320 after they had been reduced to 49 for 4 in the 30th over.
The morning session had been all about the anticipation to see Sehwag bat, as several people leaned on the railings in the stands to see who was opening, but were disappointed as soon as they realised it was Unmukt Chand with Gambhir.
Less than an hour later, they leaned again to see if it was Sehwag walking up to the middle after Chand's off stump was pegged back by Akshar Patel, but it was Puneet Bisht instead who took to the field.
Sehwag did however come in to bat soon, as Delhi lost Bisht 15 minutes before lunch. The stand behind the dressing room reverberated with the chants of "Viru Viru", and was accompanied by claps, whistles and cameras, but for the business-oriented populace of Surat, that was one investment that was about to go sour.
Sehwag didn't show the patience to wait till lunch, and charged offspinner Jesal Karia in the fourth delivery he faced, aiming for the long-on boundary. The mishit, though, went only as far as mid-on, where Akshar nervously wobbled under the skier for a few seconds, before sending the whole Gujarat team into frenzy. With that, any hopes that Sehwag may have harboured of making a comeback into the Test team, were further shrouded in thick mist.
Gambhir was prepared to show more respect to the bowlers on a pitch that displayed enough mood swings. It was a typically western Indian red-soil pitch that afforded good bounce to the seamers, but with a number of deliveries misbehaving from time to time, the batsmen had to stay watchful all day.
Gambhir survived against a couple that stayed low, but was dismissed with one that bounced a touch extra and caught the inside edge on its way to the short-leg fielder.
The Gujarat bowlers, on their part, used the conditions to their advantage by bowling on the stumps. Akshar, who came into bowl as early as the sixth over, hardly erred in line or length, bowling a miserly spell of 27-14-24-3. "I was told by the captain about not to worry about the batsmen and bowl accurately," Akshar said. "Had I tried too many things, it would have helped the batsmen. The pitch had enough, so I just stuck to my lines."
Wth Delhi's seemingly powerful top-order all flattering to deceive, It was left to the old pro Mithun Manhas and the young Manan Sharma to drop down the anchor. Manhas, a veteran with more than 8000 first-class runs, tackled the spinners by using his feet, playing late, and by doing what he has always done in the absence of Delhi's stars for the past few seasons - solidly defend.
The seamers troubled him - he was twice struck on the box - but he hung on to score his 44th half-century. There were plenty of deft touches and back-foot punches, as he hit 11 fours in his innings. He also smashed two sixes by driving one over long-on, and the other over long-off.
Manan followed a similar template by waiting for the odd loose ball to score, eventually hitting a six to arrive at his first half-century in first-class cricket. Manhas praised the resolve the young batsmen showed. "Manan is a rookie, he doesn't think about the pitch or the spin," Manhas said. "His head is clear; if there is a ball to be hit, he hits it."
The two fought together for 46.4 overs to slowly push Delhi towards 200.
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Would he have fared better than the incumbent middle-order batsmen, Root and Ballance?