Chopra and Bhatia revive Delhi
A triple-strike from Praveen Kumar took Uttar Pradesh to the brink of controlling this game before Delhi rallied through an unbroken 160-run partnership between Aakash Chopra and Rajat Bhatia to reduce the deficit to 146 runs, with six wickets intact, at stumps on a rollercoaster second day at the Wankhede Stadium. The game is still in the balance; an early wicket on Friday will allow UP to get stuck in to the out-of-form lower order while Delhi will back their chances if this pair can stay at the crease for a couple more hours.
Kumar swung out the three in-form top-order batsmen, including Gautam Gambhir for a duck, to reduce Delhi to 21 for 3 after UP were dismissed for 342 in the first session. But Chopra and Bhatia stood firm to prevent UP from running away with the game. After toughing out through the rough phase - he took 19 balls to score his first run - when Kumar was causing havoc, Chopra took charge in the post-lunch session with a fluent innings. He showed impeccable judgement outside the off stump and hit several delightful drives through the off side. There was a caressed square drive off Sudeep Tyagi and a couple of inside-out drives off Piyush Chawla that caught the eye. In the last session, he drove the seamers repeatedly through the off-side cordon as Delhi muscled their way back into the game.
Mohammad Kaif had set his field carefully for Chopra. There was a short square leg and a slightly deep short leg for Tyagi, who got the ball to cut in from a length. Chopra played with soft hands, making sure nothing reached the waiting palms. Kaif, then, placed a leg gully but again Chopra kept his tucks and glances to the ground.
Giving him able support was the feisty Bhatia. Though not as assured as Chopra early in his knock, he saw off the seamers before unleashing his strokes against Chawla. A six over long-on and a swung boundary saw him gain in confidence and he even hit Kumar for a couple of boundaries. He pulled Chawla and Praveen Gupta for two more sixes and drove the seamers with authority but the highlight of the knock was an attractive pull off Bhubaneshwar Kumar.
Kaif's field settings were creative - there were two short covers at times, a leg slip and a man breathing down on the batsman close on the off side on another occasion - but failed to get the breakthrough. He then asked Kumar to bowl a series of bouncers in the last session but Chopra swayed away from a majority, kept the ones aimed at the body down in front to leave the bowler muttering under his breath about the futility of bouncers as a strategy.
Kumar must have wondered where the magic had gone; he had just ripped apart the Delhi top order with his ability to swing the cherry. With a packed slip cordon, he kept it full and moved the ball both ways to trouble the batsmen. He started the collapse with his third delivery, which was full and swinging outside off. With just one fielder in the covers, Gambhir took the bait but ended up edging an expansive drive to third slip. Shikhar Dhawan, who started off with a fierce cut and a cover drive, was set up nicely. Kumar bowled a couple of deliveries away before swinging one back in to take the fatal inside edge. Mithun Manhas was done in by a ball that curved in to trap him in front.
Chopra played only nine balls from Kumar in the first spell before lunch and was reduced to being a witness to the damage. However, in the second half of the day, he took control with an assured knock and kept Delhi in the hunt.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo