Maharashtra v Delhi, Ranji Trophy, 2nd day, Nagothane December 10, 2007

Delhi take vital first-innings lead

Delhi 278 for 5 (Manhas 74, Chopra 73, Bhatia 66*) lead Maharashtra 219 by 59 runs

Aakash Chopra made his case for national selection with a fighting 73 © Cricinfo Ltd

When Delhi batted on the second day on a tricky Nagothane track, the difference between the two sides came down to one factor: experience. While the Maharashtra batsmen played too many shots, the Delhi batsmen applied themselves, saw out the tough periods, strung together partnerships and by stumps had put their side 59 ahead of Maharashtra's total of 219 with five wickets to spare. The main contributors were Mithun Manhas, Aakash Chopra and Rajat Bhatia, each of whom scored a half-century.

Manhas, who came in to join Chopra after Chetanya Nanda, the nightwatchman, and Virender Sehwag fell in quick succession, looked the most comfortable batsman. From the outset, he batted with ease off both front and back foot, choosing to wait for the ball to come to him rather than commit to playing strokes. He opened his account with a flick off the pads through midwicket, which was a feature of his innings. He hit seven boundaries in his 74 and strung together two important partnerships - 75 for the fourth wicket with Chopra and 91 for the fifth with Bhatia - before his dismissal against the run of play and when he looked good for his second century of the season.

If Manhas made batting look easy, Chopra weathered the tough period, just before stumps yesterday and in the first hour today. He survived a couple of confident lbw appeals, when the fielders contended that the bat was hidden behind the pad. One edge fell short of slip and there was a big caught-behind shout too. On a pitch with variable bounce, he took a blow from one that kicked disconcertingly from a good length.

While all that happened, he didn't let the scoring slow down, rotating the strike consistently and hitting eight boundaries. He was comfortable against the spinners, playing the first pull shot of the match when he hit Sairaj Bahutule to the midwicket boundary in the 24th over. He stepped out to hit Agharkar for two fours down the ground and crossed 50 for the fourth time in this Ranji Trophy, one of which he has converted into a double-century and another into a century. The knock, which comes ahead of the selection for the Australia tour and with Bhupinder Singh, a national selector, watching, ended when he was on 73. He was given lbw off a Bahutule delivery that came in and was visibly unhappy with the decision, standing motionless at the wicket for about eight seconds before shaking his head and walked off.

After Chopra got out, Bhatia, a five-for in his bag already, joined Manhas and the two carried Delhi through to the first-innings lead with ease. Bhatia batted with the same sense he had shown with the ball and played only when the bowlers made him play. When he went for the big hits, they cleared the boundary and he hit the only sixes of the match so far. He ended the day unbeaten on 66 off 190 deliveries.

Sehwag, meanwhile, once again played an innings where he promised a lot and delivered little. In one over from left-armer Fallah, he walked down the wicket to take two boundaries - one flicked to fine leg and one driven straight down. But in the same over he went for another big drive, and beaten by the angle from round the stumps, played it on to the leg stump.

The young Maharashtra bowlers bowled with heart, creating chances, and beat the bat on several occasions. However, like the Delhi seamers, Samad Fallah and Wahid Sayyed lacked the discipline, Fallah bowling eight no-balls and the two bowling two wides each. The young side's inexperience showed as they appealed almost every time the ball hit the pad or beat the bat. The fielders stayed chirpy till the end of the day and kept cheering even wide balls, which were left alone. The new ball, taken in the 84th over, did not do any tricks for Maharashtra either, as Mayank Tehlan and Bhatia negotiated the period before stumps easily.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo