Gambhir, Manhas fifties propel Delhi

Delhi 191 for 3 (Gambhir 64, Manhas 60*, Javed 2-36) trail Mumbai 324 (Lad 74, Awana 5-72) by 133 runs

Despite the traditional rivalry between Mumbai and Delhi, the Ranji Trophy Group A tie between the arch rivals was more significant for the three biggest players featuring in the match - all of whom had received a latest setback on Thursday when two of them, Mumbai captain Zaheer Khan and Delhi senior Virender Sehwag, were excluded from the BCCI contracts list, while Gautam Gambhir was demoted from Grade A to B.

For a handful of fans - not more than 50 - who had gathered at the Mumbai Cricket Association's Bandra Kurla Complex facility to watch the match, the second day's play turned out to be eventful. Halfway into the match, even though the game remained evenly poised with Delhi ending day two at 191 for 3, 133 behind Mumbai's first innings score of 324, the second day was all about Sehwag, Zaheer and Gambhir.

Even though the numbers may hint at Gambhir, who scored a scratchy 64 at the top of the order, being the most successful of the three, it was Zaheer who hogged the limelight. Not just with the willow, as he took Mumbai well past 300 in the morning with his maiden fifty in the Ranji Trophy that included four huge sixes, but also with the precision of his left-arm pace bowling.

Zaheer may have been rewarded with just one wicket - that of Sehwag immediately after he brought himself into the attack the moment the dangerous batsman arrived at the wicket - but he was also the most consistent, fearsome and unfortunate bowler on the day. After getting rid of Sehwag, he time and again squared Gambhir off and induced at least two inside edges that went past the leg stump for boundaries, and another which bounced just ahead of and behind the stumps.

Even late into the evening, with Gambhir running out of patience as he drove Javed Khan straight into Siddhesh Lad's hands at point, Zaheer troubled the seasoned Mithun Manhas, who looked the best of the Delhi batsmen. Manhas played and missed Zaheer several times during a five-over spell. Had fortune been on the Mumbai captain's side, he would have easily got a rich haul of wickets. But even Manhas survived, despite finding himself squared up off the last ball he faced from Zaheer, and watching the edge flying through the slip cordon to the third man fence.

Gambhir, on the other hand, appeared to be rusty at the crease all through his innings. Even though his knock of 64 included 12 boundaries, more than a third of those came through edges on either side of the wicket. Though he left the ball outside off reasonably well, what was missing was the footwork that was instrumental in establishing him as India's leading opener not long ago. Even against Vishal Dabholkar's left-arm spin, Gambhir hardly used his feet. The only time he looked in sublime touch was when he scored three boundaries off the spinner in an over. While two of those were his trademark square cuts, in between those, he stepped out and drove through covers. Just as he was set for his second century in three first-class games, Gambhir was dismissed and joined Sehwag in the dressing room.

Sehwag, on the other hand, wasted yet another opportunity to make a case for a slot in India's middle order for the Test series in South Africa. While he opened his account with a single off the second ball he faced, in the next over, he hit Abhishek Nayar for back-to-back boundaries in contrasting style. While the first of the attempted drives raced through the slip cordon, the next raced to the cover boundary in no time. However, he tried to repeat the same to Zaheer and without any movement of the feet, all he could manage was an edge to Aditya Tare behind the stumps.

Earlier in the morning, despite Zaheer's outbreak against spinner Vikas Mishra and Manan Sharma, both of whom were hit for successive sixes in consecutive overs, fast bowler Parvinder Awana was the star of the session. Thanks to Awana's five-wicket haul, Delhi eventually restricted Mumbai to a moderate total.

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