The comeback was swift, lethal and exact. And by the time Rajasthan realized that the edifice they had built with such patience and determination on Day One was crumbling, the horse had bolted. It all begun, as all crises do, by a small moment of hesitation and carelessness on the protagonist’s part.
The folly of one man is the fortune of another and that is what exactly happened. Kuldeep Singh, who had bit the bullet on Thursday to score a resolute unbeaten 71, suddenly decided that it was time to shed the tortoise skin and assume the hare’s. And so, in the fourth over of the day, he set off for a non-existent single after tapping the ball to covers, only to see Yogesh Nagar throw down the stumps with a direct hit. Tight matches often hinge on moments like this, and to their credit, Delhi were vigilantly waiting for indiscretion like this to turn the tables. And when Venugopal Rao fell to Parvinder Awana for 30, panic was running riot. The defending champions, sensing the frayed nerves, tightened the noose and soon the probing bowling and cheeky chirruping from the coterie of close catchers saw an innings that had begun with so much promise for Rajasthan, brutally cut short at 296, with Pradeep Sangwan grabbing three quick wickets.
Whatever hopes Rajasthan had of wresting the initiative back was quickly snuffed out by Aakash Chopra and Shikhar Dhawan, who not only put on an unbeaten opening partnership of 117 rich in high-quality stroke-play, but also did it in 30 overs, at nearly four an over, something that might be vital if they have to pull off an outright win.
Chopra was unbeaten on 50 and Shikhar on 58 when bad light brought play to a premature end 16 overs short. Dhawan was at his attacking best, unleashing his destructive drives time and again. He seemed assured and spiffy at the crease, throwing his wrists with gay abandon on the loose stuff. He had one reprieve at 34 when the ‘keeper dropped him off Vikrant Yadav.
Chopra was a little watchful, shouldering arms to anything dicey. He hunched immaculately into defensive posture against the moving ball like a boxer avoiding a flurry of jabs but was soon in his element as the shine wore off, driving and punching with aplomb.
But Delhi would do well not to rest on their laurels, as they saw what became of Rajasthan once wickets fell in quick succession. Well-begun is only half done.