Vidarbha 528 for 7 (Wadkar 133*, Sarwate 79, Jaffer 78, Saini 3-126) lead Delhi 295 by 233 runs
If one had to compile the top cricket surprises of 2017, Vidarbha’s Ranji Trophy campaign would feature fairly high. They continued to impress right until the last day of the year with a solid lower-order performance that gave them an imposing lead of 233 against Delhi, who have slowly been pushed towards the runners-up position.
Vidarbha’s ascendancy came with a seventh-wicket stand of 169 runs between wicketkeeper-batsman Akshay Wadkar, who scored his maiden first-class century, and allrounder Aditya Sarwate. Delhi’s showing was marred by dropped catches, a missed stumping and a feeble bowling attack that could do little on a pitch that has started to favour batsmen. Wadkar’s unbeaten innings was later complemented by a barrage of boundaries from Siddhesh Neral (56*) who struck his maiden first-class half-century with four fours and as many sixes.
The day began with Wasim Jaffer edging the fourth ball into the cordon, but Kunal Chandela dropped it while diving to his left from second slip when the ball was headed straight to first. Vidarbha were still trailing by 89 then. To rub salt into Delhi’s wounds, Jaffer steered a short delivery two balls later to third man for four.
Navdeep Saini was extracting pace and reverse swing with the old ball but Delhi captain Rishabh Pant made the mistake of bowling him for too long at a stretch. Saini did account for nightwatchman Aditya Wakhare and later Jaffer (78) too, aided by a poor lbw decision, but to make him bowl eight overs with the old ball and then hand him the new one too proved detrimental. Five balls into his ninth over, Saini walked off.
By then, Sarwate was scoring at more than run-a-ball with authoritative drives. A more sedate Wakhare gathered confidence by slapping a short ball from Kulwant Khejroliya down the ground to level the scores and followed it with a cut for four more two balls later. The second chance of the session went down when Sarwate edged left-arm spinner Vikas Mishra to slip where the ball went through Gambhir and the batsman brought up a 62-ball fifty.
The Vidarbha lower order wore Delhi down even more in the second session. Even though Wadkar and Sarwate slowed their scoring rate, Pant barely had any bowling options to fall back on with left-arm spinner Manan Sharma down with a knee injury he picked up while fielding. Akash Sudan ran in without much threat, Khejroliya banged in plenty of half-trackers and Mishra kept darting deliveries that were blocked in front of the stumps. Saini returned after lunch but Vidarbha had gone past 350 by then.
The extents to which Delhi were stretched was clear in how Nitish Rana stopped bowling medium-pace and turned to offspin. Pant brought on part-time offspinner Dhruv Shorey too to try his luck and Shorey’s third delivery created a chance. Sarwate, on 67, came down and missed a flick but Pant himself failed to execute a sharp stumping. Four overs later, Sarwate, still on 67, was dropped by short leg off Shorey again.
Wadkar had overtaken Sarwate by now and Saini had begun to tire again. This made Pant bring back Rana and the change surprisingly worked when Sarwate was caught behind off a flat delivery, with Pant holding on this time. Wadkar stamped his authority further when he stepped out and hit Mishra for a six and a four straight down the ground to celebrate his century in animated fashion.
Sarwate’s wicket brought no respite for Delhi. Neral had already smacked Rana for a six before Wadkar’s century and belted more boundaries in the last session by backing away against the pacers for slashes and pulls. After collecting two fours off Khejroliya, he ramped a short delivery to straight third man, and though the fielder held on this time, it was called a no-ball for being the third bouncer of the over.
Neral whacked two sixes off Khejroliya and cracked his fourth four to bring up his fifty. Two balls later, he miscued a pull and Khejroliya ran in from long-on for a skier but could not take it cleanly. Like Marvel’s superhero movies that always leave something post credits, Delhi had another problem coming. On 53, Neral pulled Khejroliya and the leading edge was pouched easily by the bowler, but this wasn’t a legal delivery either. Khejroliya had overstepped.
Such instances summed up the day for Delhi as Vidarbha amassed 322 runs for the loss of only three wickets.