Kukreja and Nayar set up exciting final day
Delhi 251 and 59 for 0 (Chopra 33*, Gambhir 22*) need 328 more runs to beat Mumbai 166 & 471 for 9 (Kukreja 199, Nayar 93, Sangwan 5-102)
In what is turning out to be a fascinating tussle between two traditional rivals in domestic cricket, both Mumbai and Delhi ended the third day of their third-round Ranji Trophy clash harbouring hopes of victory. Delhi were 59 without loss, and need 328 more for victory after Mumbai declared at 471 for 9 in their second innings at the Wankhede Stadium. Sahil Kukreja and Pradeep Sangwan shared the honours for the day, with Kukreja thrashing a magnificent 199 before Sangwan dismissed him on the way to a maiden five-wicket haul to take his match tally to eight.
Sangwan started the day on a bright note, sending back the dangerous duo of Amol Muzumdar and Rohit Sharma in quick succession. A listless Muzumdar missed a front-foot flick and was caught plumb in front for his second failure of the match. Sharma played 13 dot balls before trying to pull a bouncer, but all he managed was a nick to Puneet Bisht behind the stumps.
Luckily for Mumbai, Kukreja never lost sight of his responsibility. He brought up his first century of the season with a punch through point for a couple of runs. As on Friday he eased into his strokes with ease. His effort was complemented by Abhishek Nayar, who got his act together after a lackadaisical display in the first innings.
Having seen off the new-ball pair of Sangwan and Ishant Sharma, the Mumbai duo launched a blistering attack against the slow bowlers. Narinder Singh got an ominious warning in his first over: Kukreja swept the first ball past midwicket and leaned forward for his trademark cover drive next ball before taking a single. Nayar then stepped out twice to hit a four and six over midwicket off Singh's final two deliveries to mount the run-tally from the over to 19.
A couple of leg-side fours from another Singh over brought up Kukreja's 150. Nayar, meanwhile, swatted a six over midwicket off legspinner Chaitanya Nanda, who struggled to flight the ball and repeatedly pitched it short. A single off Nanda's next over carried Nayar to the half-century mark, and he celebrated with a cover drive for another four.
Apart from Sangwan none of the Delhi bowlers displayed consistency, control, variation or the tactical nous to tackle the Kukreja-Nayar combination. Nanda leaked 19 in an over, and Virender Sehwag's decision to bring himself on didn't work either, as Nayar reverse swept him off successive deliveries.
Mumbai hammered 200 runs from 38 overs in the two-and-a-half hour morning session, with Kukreja going into the break only 25 away from his first double-century and Nayar 18 runs short of his second Ranji hundred this season. The new ball was taken in the second over after lunch, and Sangwan immediately caused some discomfort to both batsmen with his accuracy.
Nayar, who is known for his impetuosity in local circles, failed to show restraint and played on while attempting to play across a delivery that angled in. He fell just seven short of his hundred, but his 174-run partnership with Kukreja had swung the momentum Mumbai's way.
Unfortunately for Sangwan, though, Ishant failed to emulate him. He bowled with a fair amount of pace, but rarely backed it up with accuracy, instead bowling on both sides of the stumps to release the pressure that Sangwan exerted from the other end.
A five-for was just reward for Sangwan, and his fifth scalp was, quite fittingly, Kukreja. Perhaps excited at the prospect of the double-century, Kukreja played his first rash drive of the day, and the nick was brilliantly picked by Aakash Chopra, who dived to his left at second slip. A visibly upset Kukreja swung his bat in disgust and dislodged the bails, but was quick to apologise to the umpire. Ajit Agarkar then played a delightful cameo to prolong Delhi's wait, putting together a valuable 69-run ninth-wicket partnership before falling for 60.
Delhi's openers began confidently, with both Chopra and Gautam Gambhir showing the patience to play themselves in and waiting for the bad balls to come along. With 328 more required, and with Sehwag still to come in, the last day promises plenty of excitement.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo