Mumbai v Delhi, Ranji Trophy, Mumbai, 2nd day November 24, 2007

Sahil Kukreja leads Mumbai's fightback

Mumbai 166 and 154 for 2 (Kukreja 89*, Mujumdar 2*) lead Delhi 251 (Gambhir 89, Salvi 3-44) by 69 runs

Sahil Kukreja's unbeaten 89 brought Mumbai back in the game © Cricinfo Ltd.

Sahil Kukreja hit a belligerent 89 to turn this match on its head and put Mumbai back in the reckoning against Delhi at the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday. With the match at the halfway stage, Mumbai have a 69-run lead and will relish the chance of bowling on a fourth-day pitch.

The day revolved largely around Kukreja, who has had an impressive start to the season, with two centuries in the lead-up to the Ranji Trophy, against Karachi Urbans in the Mohammad Nissar Trophy and Rest of India in the Irani Trophy.

This was a spotless innings but for one chance when he was on 79, debutant Narinder Singh failing to collect an easy return catch on the fifth ball of his first over. He punished Pradeep Sangwan, Delhi's first innings hero with the ball, who was wayward and was hit for a cover-driven boundary, then opened the face of the bat to glide him past point. Another cover drive, off Ishant Sharma, showed Kukreja's desire to make amends for his first innings failure, where he could only make four runs.

A wicket at the other end could have put some pressure on Kukreja but Delhi were luckless. Aakash Chopra, a usually dependable close-in fielder, couldn't hold to an easy chance offered by Ajinkya Rahane when the batsman was on four and Mumbai were 23.

That only seemed to spur Kukreja on and he hit Sangwan for three boundaries - a straight drive, a steer past third man and a wristy on-drive off an incoming delivery through midwicket - in the same over. Virender Sehwag brought on the spin but Kukreja was equally at ease, pulling the legspinner, Chaitanya Nanda, past midwicket for a four followed by a steer that beat the point fielder and then a flick past midwicket for three runs. Another flick for a single in the next over brought up his half-century, studded with nine boundaries.

Mumbai went in to tea at 80 for no loss but the break seemed to have revived Sangwan and he soon found his rhythm. He troubled the batsmen by moving the ball away, keeping them on their toes with the odd short one and suddenly snaking in the dangerous incoming delivery. Rahane took a shy at an angled delivery from Sangwan and the umpire, GA Pratap, convinced by the noise, raised his finger even before the wicketkeeper, Puneet Bisht, completed the catch. Rahane looked aghast for a second before walking off.

The tempers started to flare in the previous over when Kukreja played a leg-break from Nanda that spun off the surface; the ensuing noise had the entire Delhi team appealing but the umpire, SK Tarapore, wasn't convinced. Gambhir was seen exchanging words with Kukreja till the umpires came and calmed them down.

Mumbai would have settled for the loss of one wicket but Prashant Naik, who was settling down, didn't offer a shot to a Singh delivery that seemed to be holding the line and umpire Tarapore raised his finger.

It was a late reward for Delhi, who'd seen their advantage of the first day steadily slip away through the day. Aavishkar Salvi and Abhishek Nayar bowled a tight line that Gambhir and Rajat Bhatia, the overnight batsmen, found difficult to break through. Gambhir opened his day's account in a streaky fashion trying to cut past square, but the leading edge sneaked between gully and fourth slip. A steer past slips off Salvi took Delhi past Mumbai's total but they lost Gambhir soon after when he was beaten by the movement Nayar got off the wicket and hit in line of the stumps. He'd added eight runs to his overnight 81 and his mood was not helped by the send-off - he turned back a few times on his way to the dressing room and even pointed his bat towards one of the Mumbai players.

Delhi had one more partnership - Bisht and Bhatia putting on 63 runs for the sixth wicket - before Ajit Agarkar wrapped up the lower order and tail.

With Kukreja middling everything and Amol Muzumdar unbeaten on two, Mumbai have a good opportunity to turn this game around and set things up for Ramesh Powar to make use of the final day pitch.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo