Das and placid Kotla track make Delhi toil
Bengal 313 for 2 (Das 150*, Goswami 68, Tiwary 47*) v Delhi
For the fluttering hearts at the DDCA, it was an excellent day's cricket. For those wanting to market domestic cricket, it was certainly not the place to be, or the product to be sold.
On a Feroz Shah Kotla wicket which on its typical days, does little other than exist, Bengal scored 313 for 2 versus Delhi with opener Arindam Das's well-paced, unbeaten 150 the central note of a composed batting performance. Das' innings morphed from its early watchfulness into entertaining improvisation by the evening. With it, Delhi's energy and enthusiasm faded in the final session like the winter sun overhead. To anxious DDCA officials watching the start of the first four-day game after the abandoned India-Sri Lanka ODI though, it was more important that the wicket didn't crack, break or injure anyone.
In the morning, Delhi's whimsical mix of haze and eye-stinging smog settled around the field and made this look like a scenario for swing and seam, ideal for Delhi's three-man pace attack. When the ball had to be changed in the second over, and with the bounce generally around ankle and knee height, Delhi's hearts would have sunk. What sank even faster though, was their bowling.
Bengal handled it all very well, neither being fooled by weather nor the new wicket and doing what teams normally do in Delhi after winning the toss - send out their openers and put up their feet. It was Das' innings which best reflected how Bengal had chosen to play this game. He began by playing Robin to Shreevats' Goswami's Batman, turning the strike over as his left-hand partner tried to produce the entire repertoire of his strokes before lunch. An impressive straight six off Mithun Manhas after the break was followed by the simplest of catches. Goswami failed to loft the Delhi captain over mid-on and trundled off gloomily, well aware that, having survived the first session, he had lost out on the 'gimme' part of the day.
Das demonstrated exactly how it was to be done; on a wicket he termed as not quite ideal for strokeplay, the man nicknamed 'Don', constructed his innings carefully, one stroke at a time. He stepped out and deposited Manhas to midwicket, flicked Narwal with a compelling twist of the wrist, and then cut the same bowler over the slips at the first sight of width and height. After the circumspection and caution of the morning, it was as if another man was batting in the afternoon. Das kept the pace of play going, after an anxious debut by Avishek Chowdhary (20 off 90 balls, 3x4) had given Delhi a brief breather. In the hour after tea, though, Bengal scored 67 off 13 overs.
Legspinner Chetanya Nanda was the least impressive of the Delhi bowlers - with seven no-balls, several long hops and a working-over by the Bengal openers - forcing Manhas to step in as spinner himself. Delhi's decision to play a 3-1 combination backfired because their pace bowlers failed to stick to a line, build pressure or ask enough questions of the batsmen. Between them, Manhas and the part-time medium-pacer Rajat Bhatia bowled 32 overs, a reflection of Delhi's lack of penetration in both arms of its bowling.
After stumps, coach Manoj Prabhakar growled. "Just because the wicket's not got anything in it, doesn't mean you can't bowl well. There is something called line and length." There were only two balls above shoulder height all-day, left-armer Pradeep Sangwan's well-directed new-ball bouncer in the final over, astonishing not just Manoj Tiwary, but every single spectator. Sangwan's menace and lengthy follow-through didn't last long. Two balls later the Bengal captain produced a stand-and-deliver cover drive, and the miserable bowler flung his sweater over his shoulder, onto his face and marched towards the outer wilderness.
Bengal will be pleased but know that Delhi's hard-nosed stalwarts would hardly be fazed, having survived several seasons begun with the Kotla's grim tidings. Das thought that 550 would be enough, pushed the number up to 600 and then made it the "management's decision". He has given the rest of his team's batsmen though, an idea of what they must do.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at Cricinfo