Gambhir drives home Delhi's advantage
Stumps Delhi 159 for 4 (Gambhir 81*) trail Mumbai 166 by seven runs
Gautam Gambhir called on his first-class experience, and current international form, to ensure Delhi didn't throw away a great start to their clash with Mumbai at the Wankhede Stadium. After dismissing Mumbai for just 166 inside two sessions, making superb use of a lost toss, Delhi suffered some stumbling blocks of their own before Gambhir buckled down for an unbeaten 81 to take them to within seven runs of a first-innings lead with six wickets in hand.
Amol Muzumdar's decision to bat on what looked a friendly surface backfired as Pradeep Sangwan and Ishant Sharma, Delhi's enthusiastic new-ball operators, wasted little time in rattling the top order. Sangwan, the first left-arm seamer Mumbai have faced this season, showed no signs of nerves in his third match and forced Sahil Kukreja to chop his fourth delivery onto the stumps.
Not wanting to waste what little assistance the pitch provided in the morning, Sangwan extracted maximum bounce in addition to his movement. Even Rohit Sharma, whom Mumbai looked to for class in the absence of Wasim Jaffer, was unsettled. Sangwan's intelligent bowling came to the fore when he bowled two short balls in a row to Sharma, who played back both times, before bowling an immaculate inswinger, his stock ball. This surprised Sharma, weight transferred back again as he failed to get forward in time, and he was trapped plumb in front.
At the other end Ishant hit the stumps with the first ball of his third over, breaking through the yawning defence of Ajinkya Rahane, the other opener. Unlike Sangwan, Ishant was finding it hard to control the ball but his pace compensated. Muzumdar and Prashant Naik had the responsibility of holding the innings together but Muzumdar slashed at one outside off from Rajat Bhatia that was plucked spectacularly by Virat Kohli inches off the ground. Even after the umpires ratified the decision, Muzumdar couldn't believe what had happened.
Offspinner Narender Singh, making his debut, confidently tossed the ball up and slipped in some fast off-breaks. Ajit Agarkar hit him for two boundaries off his first two balls but, going for a third one, slapped a cut straight to point. Naik opted to slog it out but soon became Singh's second victim, caught at long-on. His 40 from 99 balls was the day's highest score till Gambhir bailed Delhi out of a hole.
The visitors wrapped up the innings in the 45th over, Ishant getting his third wicket, and their openers began positively. Gambhir, who along with Sehwag returned to his state side after India's ODI series victory against Pakistan, adapted smoothly to the four-day format. He took three fours off Agarkar's opening over and bruised the bowler's ego further with a cut past square in his next.
Mumbai's woes increased when Aakash Chopra was reprieved on three as Naik, at second slip, failed to hold on to a simple chance off the impressive Avishkar Salvi. But after the openers had put on 42, Salvi trapped Chopra leg before with one that pitched on off and held its line and Chopra was slow to react to.
In walked Sehwag who hit his fifth ball, from Salvi, over midwicket for four and, though mistimed, signalled Delhi's intentions. A six over long-on and then a tap to fine leg for two, as Sehwag smartly moved inside the line, took Delhi to 60 for 1 at tea.
The break seemed to have rejuvenated the Mumbai dressing room and, shortly after the resumption Nayar induced Sehwag, on 16, into a nick to Vinayak Samant behind the stumps. Nayar's jubilant shrieks reverberated round the empty Wankhede but it was Gambhir who gave them the most trouble.
Gambhir was unflinching in his task and played with a clarity of mind in an innings that might prove decisive. A single off Ramesh Powar brought up his half-century and Gambhir looked on as Kohli, a centurion in Delhi's season opener against Rajasthan, went for an expansive drive off Nayar and was let off by a juggling Rahane at backward point. Gambhir came down heavily on debutant Bhavesh Patel, a young legspinner, immediately dispatching a pull past square leg and then stepping out and converting a tossed up delivery into a full toss, flicking past midwicket.
Kohli pulled a long-hop from Powar short over square leg for his first six and looked good for more but was dubiously adjudged caught behind by umpire GA Pratap when he poked at one from Salvi that swerved away after passing his bat outside off stump. He added 51 with Gambhir. Delhi slipped further as Mithun Manhas, fresh from a second season hundred - against Saurashtra last week - reluctantly responded to a call from Gambhir and fell short of his crease to Agarkar's direct hit.
Gambhir stayed on till stumps and with his first century of the season in sight, has done plenty to take the game further away from Mumbai, who were left ruing the waste of the toss.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo