Rest of India are seven wickets away from clinching the Irani Cup for the 21st time. Having lost skipper Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli early on and Rajat Bhatia to the last ball of the day, Delhi's hopes of achieving the target of 378 are bleak. Their woes were compounded by an ankle injury to Aakash Chopra, who is yet to bat.
But the Ranji champions are fancying their chances, especially with Gautam Gambhir in fine touch. "With two days to go, time is not a problem. It's a matter of a couple of good partnerships," coach Vijay Dahiya said. Two quick wickets is what must be on Anil Kumble's mind. Either way, it is unlikely the match would stretch into the fifth day.
Zaheer Khan got the first two Delhi batsmen as Sehwag and Kohli missed the line of the deliveries that straightened after pitching and caught them plumb in front. At the end of Day III at the Reliance Stadium on Friday, Delhi were 113 for three, needing another 268 to win.
Earlier, Rahul Dravid's marathon 100th first-class half-century, that saw him engage in partnerships with S. Badrinath, V.V.S. Laxman, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, added to the overnight lead of 174 and was key to Rest tightening their grip on the match. Dhoni's 84 is the highest individual score of the match so far. His partnerships with the tail-enders were not without risk, but the runs counted.
With 12 boundaries and a huge six that landed inside the media box, Dhoni showed the key to batting on this wicket was to play as late as possible. The way he got out though undid what he demonstrated - taking a wild heave at a wide delivery from Ishant Sharma but only managed a thick edge that was taken at gully.
Dravid and Dhoni's efforts pushed back Delhi leg-spinner Chetanya Nanda's commendable display. The only recognised spinner in the side, he had a crucial role to play on a surface which had some turn and uneven bounce. He did just that with a five for to go with his three-wicket haul in the first innings.
Dravid had a close shave early in the first session when a thick outside edge off Ashish Nehra dropped short of wicketkeeper Punit Bisht. The first breakthrough of the morning came in the next over when Ishant got one to jump and cut in to Badrinath. The ball seemed to take a deflection off his arm and rattled the stumps. Two balls later, Mohammad Kaif departed. This time Ishant's delivery held its line and took a faint outside edge.
A collapse was on the cards when Laxman walked in. Dravid took the initiative and with some fine shots through cover and extra-cover ensured Delhi did not get on top. It was Dhoni all the way after Laxman departed. Relying on singles initially, the wicketkeeper got into his elements once Ishant was taken off the attack. Particularly harsh on Sehwag, Dhoni used his pulls and hooks against whatever was pitched short by Nehra.
Just after lunch, Chopra, fielding at second slip, set off to fetch the ball from the boundary after Dhoni had padded it away. But while relaying the ball back to the wicketkeeper, he fell and looked to be in considerable pain. Chopra was carried off by the physio and reserve players and did not take the field. "He has twisted his ankle and we have pushed him down the order to give him some time," Dahiya said.
Sehwag lodges complaint
Sehwag has lodged a complaint with match referee R.R. Jadeja against Munaf Patel for abusing him when he was batting with Chopra on the second day.