Iqbal Abdulla, seamers help Mumbai seize advantage
Delhi 85 for 3 (Dhawan 36*, Bhatia 27*) trail Mumbai 500 (Nayar 156, Khanvilkar 70, Abdulla 69, Vikas 4-89) by 415 runs
Backed by a formidable first-innings total, Mumbai's fast bowlers destroyed Delhi's top order as the visitors slumped to 85 for 3 in reply to the hosts' 500 on the second day at the Brabourne Stadium. It would have been four down had Wasim Jaffer, at second slip, pouched an easy offering from Rajat Bhatia, who played hard at a straighter delivery from Aavishkar Salvi after scoring his first run.
But Mumbai, hopefully, would not rue the missed opportunity because for the second straight day they were busy making their own luck. They began the morning in a circumspect manner. Having crossed the 300-mark on the first day their two main goals were to go past 500 and stretch their stay in the middle. Interestingly their hero of the first day, Abhishek Nayar, the overnight centurion, was more subdued. It took him 17 balls to open his account, happily leaving the balls or just defending them.
Mumbai had scored just seven runs by the fifth over when Ajit Agarkar, who scored a brisk half-century the previous evening, spooned an easy catch to Mithun Manhas at cover. Next, Ramesh Powar went for an audacious charge against a flighted delivery from left-arm spinner Vikas Mishra, and was clean bowled.
Newcomer Iqbal Abdulla though, was more confident and sure about his footwork as he charged Mishra straightaway on his second ball to hit over the bowler's head for a four. He declared his attacking intent with a strong sweep which raced past the square-leg ropes. Aged 17, and playing only his third match this season, Mishra was used less on the first day as Delhi coach Vijay Dahiya feared he would get exposed against the well-set left-hand pair of Nayar and Onkar Khanvilkar. Obviously, it was a defeatist strategy.
Today Mishra did impart more flight but the lack of turn hurt him as the opposition continued to pick him with ease. Abdulla rocked back to cut a short and wide ball for a four as he set about to break the early tedium of the first hour. Though Nayar had started to open up finally after the first 90 minutes, his approach lacked the bold intent prevalent on Sunday. He later stepped out to Mishra, attempting to clear the long-on boundary, but could only loft an easy catch to Ishant Sharma at deep midwicket.
Abdulla had found himself in more desperate situations on few occasions earlier this season and understood a balanced mixture of attack and caution would help him lead Mumbai towards 500. He followed that principle successfully and reached his third half-century this year with a strong square cut off medium pacer Parvinder Awana. Along with his Parkophene team-mate (a local Mumbai club) Usman Malvi, Abdulla stitched together a crucial 50-run partnership for the ninth wicket and the Delhi bowlers need to blame themselves as they gave enough space for the pair to take advantage.
It was then the turn of the Mumbai's fast bowlers to carry forward the advantage and they made full use of the customary afternoon breeze from the neighbouring Arabian sea through the West stand. Ajit Agarkar, Malvi and Aavishkar Salvi consistently troubled Delhi's top order with movement in the air and off the pitch. Having been freshly rolled the pitch was hard, and Mumbai's speedsters banged in the ball hard and stuck to the off stump line forcing the batsman to play.
Mayank Tehlan, who had come in for the injured Aakash Chopra, tried to ground a fuller length, seaming away delivery from Malvi, but offered a straightforward catch to Khanvilkar at third slip. Aditya Jain picked two easy fours but was beaten by a superb outswinger from Agarkar that rapped the front pad and the umpire upheld the appeal instantly. Manhas was deceived by a superb delivery from Salvi next up, which pitched on length, kept moving straight before shaping out a little bit to uproot the off stump.
All is not lost for Delhi, who will remain optimistic due to the presence of Shikhar Dhawan and Bhatia, who now will have to play a patient game without taking too many risks. Interestingly, Delhi are in the same precarious position as Mumbai were yesterday (86 for 3) till they were rescued by the heroics of Nayar.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo