In recent past, Delhi has not witnessed the kind of football game that kept the small crowd engrossed after the end of third day's play at the Ferozeshah Kotla on Saturday. Instead of the gloom that generally envelops the dressing room, there was this sight of the 14 Delhi players kicking a ball around, as if they were just going to join battle.
Among the 14 was the southpaw Shikhar Dhawan, back after spending almost one full day in the middle. The one player missing was his partner in that long journey, Rajat Bhatia, who was trying to get battle ready for yet another day by taking a cold shower.
The two have put Delhi on the verge of taking the first innings lead over Tamil Nadu with their splendid centuries. Delhi finished the day at 309 for five in reply to Tamil Nadu's 347 all out.
Shikhar fell just after reaching his century, at 106, but Bhatia came out unbeaten on 101 along with veteran wicketkeeper-batsman Vijay Dahiya on 51. With just 39 more runs needed for a vital first innings lead, it would be important for both these unbeaten batsmen to show the same composure on Sunday.
The day started on a wrong note for Delhi. Skipper Mithun Manhas could last only seven balls in the morning before felling leg-before to speedster V Yomahesh on his overnight score of 16. There was a complete silence in the Delhi dressing room as debutant Virat Kohli also walked back soon after scoring 10.
But Shikhar had his set gameplan in mind as he had a word with incoming Bhatia when Delhi were reeling at 75 for four. He took over the charge and gave Bhatia time to settle in. The two not only had lunch together but also shared a cup of tea. For Shikhar, if it was a mixture of some of his usual aggression and sensible running between the wickets, then Bhatia looked like a completely transformed player from last season.
Bhatia carefully crafted his innings. The 13 boundaries he hit on his way to his fourth first-class century came from loose deliveries. Interestingly, a former Tamil Nadu player himself, Bhatia scored his third consecutive ton against them, after his 150-plus in the last game in Chennai last season and another hundred before that in the Ranji one-day league.
"I have always done well against Tamil Nadu. I don't know the reason but I certainly know for a fact that this innings is the reward for all my off-season's work on my fitness," said Bhatia. After Shikhar's dismissal, it was the turn of Dahiya to show his experience at a crucial point. Dahiya not only took pressure off Delhi by reaching his fifty in just 78 balls but also took the shine off Tamil Nadu's new ball.
Sunday promises good news for Delhi.