A spell of spirited and at times clever pace bowling from Munaf Patel backed by some excellent catching helped Rest of India get a firm grip on the Irani Cup match against Delhi at the Reliance Stadium on Thursday. At the end of the second day, Rest had a comfortable lead of 174 runs with nine wickets in hand.
Rahul Dravid, though scratchy initially, looked like he was settling down nicely having bravely warded off some short-pitched stuff from Ashish Nehra. Looking composed at the other end was S. Badrinath with five smart hits to the fence. The teasing line that Ishant Sharma sent down on the first day was seen only in flashes. Wasim Jaffer's was the lone breakthrough Delhi got when Pradeep Sangwan induced an edge which Aakash Chopra caught diving in front of first slip. Munaf's love story with this ground, earlier known as the IPCL Stadium, continued. In a spell of six overs, he sent back Chopra, Virat Kohli and Mithun Manhas to neutralise Delhi's advantage. Munaf had five-wicket-hauls in both innings for the Board President's XI against England at this ground two years ago and broke into the Test team.
Chopra and Virender Sehwag were looking to build a partnership after Gautam Gambhir was caught at first slip off Zaheer Khan in the second over of the day.
Once Chopra, who looked solid till he was caught in two minds and edged Munaf to Mohammad Kaif at second slip, was dismissed, Rest didn't need further invitation. They attacked Kohli with a forward short-leg, a short mid-wicket, two slips and a gully signalling a short ball from Munaf. It did not come in that over. But when it came the next time, Kohli failed to duck and tried to fend it away. M.S. Dhoni completed the catch.
The field did not change when Munaf, who finished with figures of four for 31, steamed in to Rajat Bhatia and Mithun Manhas. The latter came in when Anil Kumble dismissed Sehwag at the other end. The Rest skipper was taking a beating from Sehawg, who was slowly getting used to the pace of the wicket after a series of mistimed drives early on. A huge six over the bowler's head and a couple of boundaries showed Sehwag's ominous intentions when three India skippers got their heads together.
Dravid, a lone slip for Kumble, conveyed something to Dhoni. The India skipper for the shorter versions ran up to his Test counterpart and after a brief chat the spinner got the sweeper-cover to move towards backward point and placed Dravid slightly wide. Sehwag took the bait and tried to pierce the cover boundary. An alert Dravid dived to his right to take an excellent catch. After some resistance from Bhatia and wicketkeeper Punit Bisht, Delhi conceded a 75-run lead. How Rest bat on the third day would be crucial to the outcome of this match. There is a lot to play for.