Delhi's fortunes, quite like the Monday sun, fluctuated on the first day of their Mohd. Nissar Trophy match against Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Ltd.
While the day started with bright sunshine and a promise of a run feast on a true Kotla wicket, two quick wickets of Aakash Chopra (4) and Virender Sehwag (0) cast a menacing cloud, or two, over the hosts batting effort.
And those clouds soon began to engulf the entire innings, with Sui's Imran Ali ripping through the Ranji champions to end up with figures of 6/52 off his 15.3 overs. The much vaunted Delhi line-up could only muster 134 in 36.3 overs before being undone by some terrific fast bowling from Imran, who claimed a hat trick.
However, Delhi's bowlers repaid the favour to their Pakistani counterparts, pegging them back to finish the day only nine runs behind. Sui ended the day 143/6.
Though Imran was undoubtedly the star for Sui, his partner in crime, Asad Ali, played the 'perfect foil', making sure the pressure never relented from the other end, while Imran led the Delhi batsmen on a merry dance.
This dominance was, however, not the case throughout the day. After the first of two rain delays, Delhi fought back with an 86-run stand between Mithun Manhas (49) and Virat Kohli (52). The duo displayed equal amounts of elegance and efficiency to stitch together a partnership that had all the makings of burgeoning into a big, match-defining one. Or so it had seemed.
With the pacers now losing their bite, Sui skipper Mohammad Hafeez decided to call upon the lone specialist spinner in his squad Imran Khalid to prise a wicket.
And Khalid obliged. He deceived Manhas off his fourth delivery, latching on to a sharp return catch. That wicket was the beginning of the end for Delhi's innings. Manhas departed with the score at 90/3. The next seven wickets could add only a further 44.
And the man responsible for this alarming slide was Imran. The right-armer suddenly got the ball to do things to put the Delhi bats in all sorts of trouble.
When he got a couple to whiz past the bats of Kohli and Bhatia, the portent did not look too bright. He claimed three wickets in his 13th over, ripping the heart out of the Delhi lower-order.
The Delhi batsmen looked out of sorts, and out of answers, to Imran's bowling. The first to be put out of his misery was Mayank Tehlan (0), edging behind to the brilliant Adnan Akmal. Puneet Bisht followed four balls later, trapped in front to one that held its line. Chetnya Nanda, realising the futility of trying to decipher Imran, decided to go after him, only to see his bails flying in all directions off the very next ball.
Imran had to wait till the first ball off his next over for his hat trick, when he had Pradeep Sangwan playing a shot much too early off a beautifully disguised slower one. Imran finished a magical spell of 10.3-3-32-5 with the wicket of Ishant Sharma.
At 134, Delhi were down and seemingly out. But to their credit, the bowlers, led by the returning Ashish Nehra (3/36) and hard-working Nanda (2/1) pulled their team back into the game. For Sui, Umar Akmal was the top scorer with an eye-catching 58.
This game is on the proverbial even keel with two teams matching each other with their ineptitude with the bat and their diligence with the ball.
An intriguing contest awaits.
Delhi 1st innings: Chopra c Akmal b A. Ali 4, V Sehwag b I. Ali 0, Kohli c Akmal b A. Ali 52, Manhas c & b Khalid 49, Bhatia c Akmal b A. Ali 1, Tehlan c Akmal b I. Ali 0, Bisht lbw b I. Ali 0, Nanda b I. Ali 0, Sangwan lbw b I. Ali 0, Nehra not out 4, Ishant lbw b I. Ali 8
Extras (b-5, lb-9, nb-2) 16
Fall of wkts: 1-4, 2-4, 3-90, 4-107, 5-118, 6-118, 7-118, 8-118, 9-122.
Bowling: A. Ali 14-5-32-3, I. Ali 15.3-5-52-6, Raza 4-0-21-0, Khalid 3-0-15-1.
SNGPL 1st innings: Hafeez c sub b Nehra 28, Arafat lbw b Nehra 0, Akmal b Nanda 58, Shafiq lbw b Sangwan 22, Misbah b Nanda 9, Shehzad not out 4, Akmal lbw b Nehra 14, Ali not out 7
Extras (lb-1) 1, Total (6 wkts) 143
Fall of wickets: 1-7, 2-56, 3-99, 4-113, 5-118, 6-133.
Bowling: Nehra 10-3-36-3, Sharma 11-2-50-0, Sangwan 9-1-51-1, Bhatia 4-2-4-0, Nanda 4-3-1-2.