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Gambhir century keeps Delhi alive in pursuit of 649

Delhi 277 for 4 (Gambhir 135*, Shorey 64, Binny 2-39) trail Karnataka 649 (Agarwal 176, Binny 118) by 372 runs
Scorecard

Gautam Gambhir became the third centurion in as many days of Delhi's Group A Ranji Trophy clash against Karnataka at the KSCA Ground in Alur. But the home team's bowlers, for the first time in the match, ensured relative parity between bat and ball. Delhi made a determined response to Karnataka's monumental 649, but lost four wickets in their bid, ending on 277 for 4 before bad light forced stumps 11 overs early. Importantly, though, Gambhir, their seniormost batsman, was still around, having looked steadfast for his unbeaten 135.

Gambhir was assured in his footwork and solid in defence as he set about trying to blunt the new ball. He had to double down, with Unmukt Chand nicking behind after Stuart Binny replaced R Vinay Kumar for the 10th over of the morning, and got one to nip away just enough to break the opening stand. Gambhir was intensely focused as he left deliveries away from his body before gradually beginning to lean into his drives.

The first session itself did not exactly make smooth progression owing to numerous delays, with people walking around behind the sightscreen despite repeated requests from Karnataka's fielders. As a result, only 12 overs were sent down in the first hour.

The heat of the past few days subsided to make way for a more misty and breezy morning, and the sun came out only an hour into the session. Shortly thereafter came the first arrival of spin as Shreyas Gopal replaced Vinay after an expensive second spell for the captain. Gambhir got his fifty with a neat push through midwicket off the legspinner.

He was his usual skillful self against the spinners, stepping out to them confidently and rocking back to cut with ease. Dhruv Shorey was an able ally, and together they hauled Delhi to 126 for 1 at lunch.

Shorey raised his fifty in the first over after the break, but Mithun then went past his defences. Shorey, who had looked assured until then, indecisively brought his bat down to a pacy delivery. That marked the end of a neatly and diligently-compiled innings, and the start of a riveting passage of play.

Nitish Rana was dropped first ball, flicking uppishly to midwicket, where Manish Pandey was caught napping. That only fired Mithun up more as he steamed in and hit the deck forcefully. Gambhir, however, was unshaken, sussing out the lengths early and comfortably leaving outside the off-stump.

At the other end, Rana made up for his first-ball lapse with two pristine cover-drives. Mithun sent down some more chin music; Gambhir responded by pulling boldly, first uppishly behind square, barely dissecting keeper and leg slip, and then a more controlled shot through midwicket. Karnataka squandered a chance to run Gambhir out when he set off for a single after Rana tapped to point. R Samarth was in position but failed to pick the ball up. Gambhir was on 76 at that stage, and Karnataka 166 for 2.

Mithun followed up his fiery spell with a spectacular catch at the deep square leg boundary, running to his right after Rana top-edged a pull and getting down just in front of the ropes. Rishabh Pant lived up to his erratic reputation, trying to sweep his first ball - a length delivery - and nearly losing his stumps. Pant kept Karnataka on their toes, checking a pull to a short delivery from Binny but wide enough of midwicket.

Gambhir, meanwhile, showed he had oodles of time to respond to pace, and handled the short balls without fuss. Pant then switched modes to put his head down and wait for the bad balls. Gambhir earnestly pursued the hundred, stepping down the track on 98 and finding the fielder, before unleashing a cut off Shreyas to the point boundary. In a reinforcement of his popularity, his effort was acknowledged by the heartiest of cheers for a non-Karnataka player.

With Gambhir and Pant settling into a partnership, Vinay decided to rest his frontline bowlers and turned to the part-time offspin of Karun Nair. He nearly shaved Pant's outside edge when the batsman came forward too early, but was deposited over midwicket for six next ball. Pant saw Delhi through to tea with Gambhir, taking them 234 for 3.

He flicked Mithun for another six in the third over after the break, before poor shot selection cost him his wicket. Having been narrowly beaten outside off by K Gowtham off an attempted cut, Pant repeated the same stroke to a delivery that came in with the arm and flattened his middle stump.

Milind Kumar survived an appeal for a bat-pad at silly point, shortly after Delhi raised their 250. Karnataka even went so far as to celebrate only for umpire Stephen Harris to merely return Gowtham his cap.

Gambhir, meanwhile, continued to middle the ball magnificently. Perhaps the only drawback from his knock was his placement, as he often found the fielders at the covers with well-timed punches and drives. Nevertheless, he continued to grit it out tenaciously.

With the sun having only occasionally peeked through the clouds, the umpires drew their light meters out at 4.20pm. Ten minutes later, they strolled off, with Delhi 372 behind.