The generous sprinkling of green on the Palam track was all that was needed for Delhi captain Ishant Sharma to unleash himself on the hapless Uttar Pradesh batsmen. Delivering from his typical high-arm trajectory, Ishant hit his straps almost immediately, getting ample bounce and maintaining a tight line and length. On a cool morning in Delhi, he even got the ball to move off the pitch quite prodigiously. Not surprisingly, the rewards were instant, dismissing opener Shivam Chaudhury off his very first delivery in the second innings.
The pressure on the visitors was relentless, as Ishant was ably supported from the other end by Navdeep Saini, who too was getting the ball to ‘talk’ in the morning session. The duo’s burst tore through UP’s top order. By the time skipper Suresh Raina was caught behind off Ishant’s bowling, they were 21/4, with their backs to the wall.
The Delhi captain’s opening spell read 5-2-10-3, which gives an indication of the kind of strife Uttar Pradesh were in early on in the innings. Ankit Rajpoot, the lanky UP pacer, was spot on in his assessment of the pitch at the end of the second day. He had predicted that the fast bowlers would rule the roost in the morning session. “There will be nip in the air, and under these conditions, the fast bowlers will definitely come in handy when they come to bowl tomorrow morning,” he had said.
Uttar Pradesh were only ahead by 43 runs in the do-or-die game for them. At that stage, it looked like their Ranji campaign had ended for good. But middle-order batsmen Akshdeep Nath and Rinku Singh took charge of the innings and began the much-needed repair work. As the afternoon sun began to bake the Palam track, it became far more receptive to batting. And once Nath and Singh saw off Ishant, there was little to worry them. Singh, in particular, looked in sparkling touch against Delhi’s spinners, employing a series of sweep shots to good effect.
Fresh from a century in Uttar Pradesh’s last Ranji game against Odisha, he raced to a fifty at a fast clip. Just as he looked set for the long haul, he was dismissed for a composed 64, thereby ending a rearguard fifth-wicket stand of 108 runs. However, that stand did go a long way in soothing some of the frayed nerves in the UP dressing room. If the Nath-Singh partnership had brought sanity to proceedings, the subsequent 86-run sixth-wicket stand between Nath and wicketkeeper Upendra Yadav clearly snatched the early initiative from Delhi. Nath brought his second first-class century with a sweep against off-spinner Pulkit Narang.
When play ended on Day 3, Uttar Pradesh were ahead by 246 runs with three wickets still intact. These two partnerships, along with Ishant’s burst in the morning session, would have easily been the talking points of the day. But play would end on a rather bizarre note, when a 32-year-old man breached the Palam security and drove his car onto the pitch.
Brief scores: Uttar Pradesh 291 and 224/7 (Akshdeep Nath 110 no, Rinku Singh 64, Ishant Sharma 3/38) lead Delhi 269 ( Dhruv Shorey 98 no, Gautam Gambhir 86, Rishabh Pant 30, Saurabh Kumar 4/87, Imtiaz Ahmed 3/33) by 246 runs.