Akshar's six-for nudges Gujarat ahead
Gujarat 320 and 89 for 4 (Smit* 23, Parthiv* 28, Narwal 2-15) lead Delhi 295 (Manhas 104, Akshar 6-55) by 114 runs
Delhi picked up four Gujarat wickets in the second innings after conceding a 25-run lead, but an unbeaten fifth-wicket stand of 42 between Parthiv Patel and Smit Patel stretched Gujarat's overall lead beyond 100 to set up the prospect of a result-oriented final day in Surat. On a testing pitch, 10 wickets fell and only 189 runs were scored on the third day, with left-arm spinner Akshar Patel picking up a maiden five-wicket haul.
In the only other first-class game Akshar had played before this one, he bowled seven overs without taking a wicket. In Surat, however, he was the preferred left-arm spinner, sending down 45 overs for 55 runs, 16 overs more than Rakesh Dhurv, who took a hat-trick in Gujarat's win against Vidarbha in the first round.
The captain's trust in Akshar was not misplaced as the bowler kept making the batsmen play, letting the pitch create doubts. He broke the 153-run stand between Manan Sharma and Mithun Manhas in the fourth over of the day, opening the doors for Gujarat to sneak a first-innings lead. The other spinners - Jesal Karia and Dhurv - chipped in with timely strikes to help dismiss Delhi for 295.
Delhi's chances of getting close to Gujarat's total had depended on Manhas, who started the day in the same vein as the second day, solidly pushing the side forward. Manhas' 23rd first-class century took 227 deliveries, but he was soon dismissed by Dhurv. Delhi's late push, though, came through an entertaining knock by Ashish Nehra.
Nehra had Rajat Bhatia for company, but wasn't prepared to give the strike to the latter. He used the slog-sweep to good effect, smashing boundaries in the mid-wicket region, before stealing the strike off the last deliveries in three consecutive overs. Then he got the crowd behind him as he ran a couple of twos in the same over, taking a minute-long break after each. The slog-sweep, though, led to his downfall as he top-edged one back to Karia.
In the 15 overs that Gujarat faced before tea, Delhi's bowlers and fielders applied pressure and prized out three top-order wickets, with Narwal bowling a testing spell of 8-4-10-2. Delhi looked good to take more wickets as a number of close appeals were turned down. Narwal got a few to shoot up after getting most to stay low, while Vikas Mishra extracted turn and bounce.
Manpreet Juneja had a nervous stay before he got a send-off from Narwal, bowled by one that stayed low. Bhargav Merai was sent up the order, but he too was trapped in front by a low Narwal delivery. In the third session, Delhi made further inroads, removing first-innings centurion Venugopal Rao for 24, but Parthiv and Smit hung on to prevent further damage and take the lead to 114.
"We have to bat as long as we can tomorrow, and not think about the target or Delhi's batting line-up," Smit said. "Delhi will also be apprehensive as they only have one point at the moment."
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo