Gambhir, Chandela centuries help Delhi seize control
The Delhi openers added a massive 232, thereby bringing their deficit down to only 15 runs with seven wickets in hand against Bengal
Delhi 271 for 3 (Gambhir 127, Chandela 113) trail Bengal 286 (Sudip 83, Saini 3-55) by 15 runs
Delhi not only learnt from their opponents' mistakes on the first day, but also thrived on them as Gautam Gambhir (127) and Kunal Chandela (113) doubled-teamed Bengal to all but secure the first-innings lead. After mopping up Bengal's last three wickets for the addition of only 17 runs on the second day, Delhi ended the day on 271 for 3, with Gambhir caught behind off Mohammed Shami on what turned out to be the last ball of the day. Delhi trail Bengal by only 15 runs with middle-order batsmen Rishabh Pant and Himmat Singh still to come.
The 232-run opening stand between Gambhir and Chandela also solved a problem that coach KP Bhaskar had described ahead of the quarter-finals as the team's only weakness. Before Monday's double-hundred stand, Delhi openers had posted only one 50-plus partnership all season. Despite some testing bowling from Shami and Ashok Dinda with the new ball, Gambhir and Chandela were scoring at a good clip - there were six fours hit in the first seven overs. Gambhir fancied his pulls, slices and dabs during the course of his 42nd first-class hundred even as Chandela, whose game appears to be built on balance and economy of initial movement, drove effortlessly on the way to a maiden century in his third first-class match.
Shami was inconsistent on a day he had to shoulder a huge chunk of Bengal's bowling workload. During the course of the 23.2 overs he bowled, Shami produced spurts of inspiration, like in the last half-hour when he attempted to bounce out Gambhir and Nitish Rana with a leg gully, deep square leg and a fine leg. Shami's efforts finally earned him a wicket after he went around the stumps for one delivery and aimed for Gambhir's body with a short-pitched ball. Gambhir couldn't evade the ball as it brushed his glove, caught by the wicketkeeper Shreevats Goswami down the leg side. Furious with himself, Gambhir slammed his bat against the sightscreen on his way back, but he had reasons to smile for the better part of the day.
Along with Chandela, he sought to derive maximum value out of any loose deliveries that came their way. Delhi scored 178 of their 271 runs in boundaries, and the Chandela-Gambhir combine contributed 162 of those. More often than not, their boundaries arrived in clusters, and the resultant spikes in scoring messed with Bengal's rhythm. On one occasion, Chandela smashed B Amit - Bengal's most disciplined bowler of the day - for four fours in an over: a punch through the off side, a streaky prod and a brace of flowing drives. Delhi whipped up 131 runs in 30 overs in the second session. The strike-rates of both batsmen were similar too, at around 58. While Gambhir brought up his century off 123 balls, Chandela took 149 deliveries.
There was also some good fortune for Gambhir. He was the beneficiary of two reprieves, on 44 and 101. On the first occasion, Dinda provoked an edge in the 19th over but Sudip Chatterjee dropped the offering at slip. Then, in the 40th over, Gambhir edged one behind off Aamir Gani's offspin, but umpire Abhijit Deshmukh turned down Bengal's loud pleas. Chandela, who has three fifties from as many first-class innings, brought up his hundred with a majestic swivel to pull the ball to the fence.
After an underwhelming pair of sessions, Bengal showed marginal improvement after tea. They had gone wicketless for 61 overs, but sent back Chandela thanks to an excellent effort from Goswami, who flung to his right to complete a one-handed catch off Amit. Goswami completed his second catch soon after when Dhruv Shorey shaped to pull a short delivery from Dinda.
Earlier in the morning, Bengal's lower order folded up without much fight in 7.2 overs. Navdeep Saini began the destruction by trapping Goswami in front of the stumps after beating him for pace. Gani was run out thanks to a direct hit from Manan Sharma at midwicket, who also caught Dinda's attempted hoick that ballooned up.
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun