Delhi held the upper hand coming into the third day of its Ranji Trophy contest against Mumbai at the Arun Jaitley Stadium, but it required a special individual performance to take rapid strides towards victory against such a formidable opponent.
By rattling the Mumbai top order with a superb exhibition of seam bowling in the morning, Divij Mehra (5 for 29) got Delhi within striking distance of an upset victory. Ninety-two runs ahead in the second innings at stumps with just one wicket in hand, Mumbai now needs an almighty effort to avoid defeat on the final day .
Mumbai needed a good start to first erase the deficit of 76 – Pranshu Vijayran struck some boundaries and the rest of the Delhi tail wagged for a bit in the first hour of the day’s play – and then build a solid total. With the pitch now expected to assist spinners more than fast bowlers, it was still anybody’s game. But Mehra bulldozed through the top order by consistently bowling deliveries on a good length with the new ball. Some of those deliveries seamed in after pitching; Musheer Khan, Prithvi Shaw and Sarfaraz Khan were all unable to deal with the sharp movement and lost their wickets. Sarfaraz, who scored a century in the first innings, fell for a golden duck; his off-stump went cartwheeling.
Armaan Jaffer, on the other hand, fell to a delivery that straightened after pitching. He was perhaps preparing to deal with the movement, and could only hang his bat out to the straight ball. With Prasad Pawar shouldering arms and losing his off-stump, the writing was on the wall: Mumbai was five down for 37.
It was left to captain Ajinkya Rahane (51, 104b, 4x4), Shams Mulani (30, 66b, 4x4), and Tanush Kotian (48, 87b, 3x4, 1x6) to try and do the repair job. Rahane, as is his wont, played with caution and was impeccable in defence. Nearly two-thirds of the deliveries he faced fetched no runs, yet his innings was quite watchable. He exuded a reassuring calmness while at the crease, and played some glorious strokes. His straight drive off Divij a little while after lunch (in the 18th over of the innings) was the shot of the day. It was off a good-length delivery, nicely timed, with precise footwork .
He was perhaps more ready to take his chances after tea. He slashed Vijayran over gully for a boundary, clipped one to midwicket for a couple, and then cut to point for a single that took him to a half-century. The road to recovery had just begun when Rahane fell, edging to slips in the next over.
Kotian rallied with the tail and kept his side afloat. It was another innings full of caution and the occasional big stroke. He hit the only six of the day, lofting off-spinner Shokeen down the ground in the hour before tea. Earlier, Mulani had stuck around for a bit, too, before being dismissed lbw by Shokeen. By stumps, Mumbai had its last pair at the crease, after Tushar Deshpande edged left-arm spinner Yogesh Sharma behind and Mohit Avasthi edged Mehra to slips. It was the fifth wicket of the day for the 20-year-old Mehra – a memorable performance in what was just his second First Class match.
Brief scores: Mumbai 293 and 168 for 9 (Rahane 51, Kotian 48, Mehra 5 for 29) leads Delhi 369 by 92 runs