Gautam Gambhir turned to his successful spinner Manan Sharma in the 43rd over of Bengal’s innings. On Day 3, the left-armer was Delhi’s best bet in fading light as he returned with two wickets in his 8-over spell. Sunday, however, was different.
The sun was shining bright and the pitch wasn’t behaving like it did. Overnight pair of Manoj Tiwary and Aamir Gani had by now survived the home side’s various seam combinations and were looking solid after their watchful vigil of 15 overs in the middle.
A spin test awaited the two right-handers, and they, Tiwary in particular, passed it with flying colours. The Bengal skipper was severe on Delhi’s lone specialist spinner. He put the skates on and danced around the crease to counter what Sharma had to offer.
The little counter-attack started in the 47th over — Sharma’s third over of the spell — when Tiwary took a good stride forward, got to the pitch of the ball and lofted it over the bowler’s head for a maximum.
He didn’t stop there. Sharma returned, and Tiwary played exquisite inside-out drives for consecutive boundaries. There wasn’t much wrong with the delivery or Sharma early in his spell, Tiwary’s excellent footwork made it look ordinary. Anything tossed up was driven or lofted over the infield, and the little adjustment – a delivery slightly dragged back — was waited for and cut behind point or helped along for a comfortable single.
To make matters worse for Delhi, Gani, batting at the other end, followed the same approach. If the right-hander wasn’t getting the boundary hit, his charge towards every delivery upset Sharma’s rhythm and with the skipper, he took Bengal to safety with a 144-run stand, which, more importantly, lasted 45 overs.The pair was separated when Gani attempted a sweep off Sumit Narwal in the 66th over. Bengal’s promotion of Sayan Shekhar Mandal made it clear that retirement was around the corner, and they were waiting for Tiwary’s hundred.
Tiwary falls short
Bengal skipper started playing his shots and entered the 90s without any sign of nervousness.
His cause was helped by Mandal who threw his bat at everything. After reaching 97 comfortably, Tiwary played the kind of shot he didn’t attempt throughout the day.
Narwal banged one in short, and Tiwary, seeing the width on offer, flashed his blade hard at it. Taking a thick part of his willow, the ball travelled in a hurry to Yogesh Nagar who reacted quickly to complete a sharp catch on the jump at first slip. The skipper fell short by three runs and in came the expected declaration, at the score of 217/5.
Set a target of 326 runs in less than two sessions or 44 overs to be precise, light allowing, Delhi signalled intent. Debutant Rishabh Pant came out to open the innings with Unmukt Chand.
Chand was timing the ball sweetly and the opener smashed four boundaries off Ashoke Dinda before the seamer took a sharp return catch to end his breezy innings.
More intent was in store as in walked Yogesh Nagar. Struggling for form this season, Nagar hit two boundaries but could last only 10 deliveries. Stability was injected with the Pant-Nitish Rana stand. The duo, playing their first season, played with a sensible head and scored at a brisk pace in the process.
Pant was very impressive during his 71-ball 57, laced with three towering sixes – two came off Pragyan Ojha.
He was assured with his footwork and was solid off the back-foot. His wicket triggered a mini conference in the middle, and Manan Sharma, next man in, played only five deliveries before the day’s play was called off with consent of both captains.
Delhi recall keeper Bist
With Pant going for the U-19 Challenger Trophy and Unmukt Chand for the Board Presidents XI contest against South Africa, Delhi made three changes for the away game against Odisha. Puneet Bisht comes in for Pant, Unmukt makes way for Mohit Sharma and Pawan Negi replaces Yogesh Nagar.
Brief Scores: Delhi 161/4 (Pant 57, Rana 49 no; Gani 3/47), Bengal 217/5 dec (Tiwary 97, Gani 62; Narwal 2/37). Bengal 3 points, Delhi 1 point.