Maharashtra v Delhi, Ranji Trophy, 3rd day, Nagothane December 11, 2007

Bhatia century helps Delhi take charge

Maharashtra 219 and 129 for 4 (Kanitkar 50, Sangwan 2-33) trail Delhi 409 (Bhatia 107, Tehlan 53, Agharkar 5-85) by 61 runs

Rajat Bhatia's century gave Delhi a commanding 190-run first-innings lead © Cricinfo Ltd

With the wickets of Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Venugopal Rao towards the end of the third day, Delhi edged closer to an outright win against Maharashtra and top position in the Ranji Super League Group A. Maharashtra, after conceding a 190-run first-innings lead, were 129 for 4, with Kanitkar, the one batsman who looked like he could salvage a draw, out for 50.

The Maharashtra top order batted more sensibly than in the first innings and there was a hint of misfortune in the manner their openers were dismissed. Harshad Khadiwale bagged a pair as he was given lbw off an inswinging delivery from Pradeep Sangwan. Khadiwale's reaction resembled Aakash Chopra's yesterday, except that his bat went up right away. After that, he stood his ground for about seven seconds before walking away.

Vishant More, who was unconvincing in the first innings, got a partnership going with Kanitkar, and was surer - and less prone to wafts outside the off-stump - this time. However, on 27, he got one from Parvinder Awana that kept low and crashed into the middle stump.

Kanitkar, at the other end, seemed to be playing a different game, crafting a composed innings while his teammates scratched around and were troubled by the inconsistent bounce. Those deliveries not on the stumps were left alone and, when he decided he had to play, he hit with authority. The foot movement was positive, going either right back or forward. He cut, pulled and drove with ease, his ninth boundary - a flick to the left of short midwicket - bringing up his third successive half-century. But minutes after Rao fell lbw to Sangwan, Kanitkar made his first error of judgement: he stepped out to Nanda, almost predetermined, was beaten in the flight and easily stumped.

There was a sense of adventure to the fifth-wicket partnership between Yogesh Takawale and Vishal Bhilare as they either defended with dead bat or hit lofted boundaries - the fourth ball of the last over Takawale hit over the midwicket boundary for a six.

Earlier, Delhi batted for almost one-and-a-half sessions to stretch their lead, as Rajat Bhatia completed his seventh first-class century, to go with the five wickets he bagged on the first day, and Mayank Telhan made 53.

Bhatia's performances in this match have been based on proper execution of the basics. Resuming on 66, he shunned all flashy shots and let Tehlan do much of the scoring, which was through drives down the ground and a slog-swept six. Bhatia was cautious in the nineties, getting from 90 to 100 in singles, all sporadically taken. During that time, Tehlan played a rash lofted stroke to hole out to long-on but their 123-run stand ensured Maharashtra were batted out of the game.

Soon after Bhatia got his century, Puneet Bisht edged a lifter from Samad Fallah to the wicketkeeper and Bhatia himself miscued a slog sweep to be caught by slip. Salil Agharkar, Maharashtra's left-arm spinner, who persisted with a consistent line and length and also got inconsistent bounce, got a just reward in his first five-for.

With Maharashtra's young batsmen not accustomed to hanging around, and Kedar Jadhav the only recognised batsman to come, the home side could opt to attack instead of the cautious play the situation warrants. If Maharashtra do manage to hold on, they will get one point and crucially keep Delhi down to three, instead of the five an outright win will fetch. A draw will keep Maharashtra in the lead while a win will see Delhi leapfrog them to the top.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo