Kohli stars on day of two halves
Delhi 328 for 6 (Kohli 173, Manas 43) trail Bengal 473 (Das 156, Tiwary 69, Lahiri 68*) by 145 runs
The teams in the Durand Cup football semi-finals at the neighbouring Ambedkar Stadium would know exactly what Delhi and Bengal went through at the Ferozshah Kotla on Wednesday. Day three of their Ranji Trophy Super League match was a game of two halves. The first belonged to Virat Kohli and Delhi, the second to Bengal, who felt an immovable object suddenly shift an inch, and then didn't stop pushing.
At stumps, Delhi were 328 for 6, still trailing Bengal's first innings total of 473 - and precious points - by 145 runs. They have two old school types at the wicket, Rajat Bhatia, who has played first-class cricket with the focus and enthusiasm of an Energiser bunny, and Sumit Narwal, the bowler who saved them much face yesterday. What Bengal have now is the belief that they can turn Delhi's innate swagger into a fall.
Kohli certainly swaggered in making 173, scoring more than half of Delhi's runs in an innings stamped with the authority and superiority of a player who belongs to another, higher, class of cricket. His departure led to a middle order meltdown, four wickets falling for 34 runs, not only because he was the entertainment of the day, but also the centre piece of two top order century stands. For nearly four hours, Bengal laboured and absorbed the punches because they knew that Kohli's wicket would turn the match into a far more even contest than he had allowed it to be.
It took them a while, but they could have had him much sooner. Iresh Saxena grassed a simple chance at mid-wicket, to Ranadeb Bose's utter misery, when Kohli was on 74. Given a reprieve, Kohli showed even more disdain. He mopped up the remaining 26 runs he needed for his hundred from 35 balls, leaping across the threshold with the help of three boundaries between 87 and 101. Bengal had tried to keep things tight and the runs down to a minimum. Given that their side had unravelled Bengal in the first session on Tuesday, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli were happy to score at a reasonable trickle, and keep coach Manoj Prabhakar relaxed. Dhawan's departure for 42 didn't have much of an impact just before lunch, as the comfort of captain Mithun Manhas' company ensured that Kohli was ready to move in to a higher gear.
The moment arrived well into the afternoon, with the sudden surprise of a run-out. Always, an event of extremes, run-outs can either be street-corner slapstick or a thunderous demonstration of speed or athleticism. In this case, it needed a combination of anticipation and good fortune, and Bengal both deserved the luck, and rode it well. The run-rate had moved to just over four an over, and Manhas guided one past a wide second slip and gully. Kohli shot out for the single. It was a fair call, Kohli expecting the gully fielder to cut off the angle at best. Arindam Das, the fielder at second slip, suddenly streaked into the frame, snatched the ball as it bobbed up into his hand, and hurled it towards the stumps. Kohli had his head down and was sprinting for the finish, but before he crossed the line, the bails leapt in to the air.
It was, as Bengal's bowler of the day Ashok Dinda said, the moment his team had worked for, the one idea they had hung all their hats on: "We said if Virat goes, the rest would struggle. Even after the dropped the catch we said, 'we just have to get Virat' and we are in the game." And so they were. Bose swung one into Gaurav Chabra's toes just before tea, and convinced the umpire that it was good enough for a leg before. After the break, Manhas attempted a Kohli-esque slash at one so wide from Dinda that it asked for punishment, but received a wicket. Punit Bisht tried to extravagantly turn Dinda over square and Abhishek Chowdhary at short leg pulled off a reflex catch.
Bhatia watched stone-faced at the other end and knew what had to be done because he's done it dozens of time. Along with the sturdy Narwal, the Delhi innings limped along during the last hour of the day's play. Bengal delayed taking the new ball in the hope that the old one, which was keeping low, would help them snake in another lbw, but all the twists were done for the day. They will now have a fairly new ball tomorrow and no prima donna of Kohli's capabilities involved in the contest anymore. The last day's play and the tussle for points promises to be a blinking contest between Bengal and the overnight batsmen. The day of two halves will melt into a session that will seal the deal.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at Cricinfo