You could hear the Bengal team heave a collective sigh of relief and a whoop of joy when Arindam Das’s direct hit at the striker’s end caught Delhi centurion Virat Kohli short of the crease, on Wednesday. Kohli’s fall infused more vim and vigour in the visiting side’s campaign to clinch the first innings lead in the Ranji Trophy Group A Super League match.
For most of the day, Kohli had made it appear that as if there were two different contests being played on a placid Kotla track — one when Kohli was on strike and the other when he was away. After he made 173 (267 balls, 24 fours, one six), the Bengal fast medium bowlers made good use of some reverse swing to claim three more wickets.
From a strong 261 for two, built on the basis of Kohli’s century stands with Shikhar Dhawan (42, 104 balls, five fours) and skipper Mithun Manhas (43, 114 balls, four fours), Delhi slipped to 328 for six at the close on the third day. The home side are 145 runs adrift of Bengal’s first innings score and will be banking on all-rounder Rajat Bhatia to extend the fight well into the final day.
The track continued to challenge the batsmen, more so when the bowlers landed the ball in the right areas. Playing strokes was not easy at all but Kohli made it look the simplest of crafts. Clearly, he was drawing confidence from the match-winning hundred he made against Australia in the one-day International, in Visakhapatnam, a little over a fortnight ago.
After Dhawan was well taken behind the stumps by Wriddhiman Saha in the bruising opening session, the man in form knew it was important to bat with a positive approach and make runs. He found another ally in Manhas as he scored even off good deliveries and made the Bengal attack wonder how to remove the thorn in their flesh.To be fair, the Bengal squad did not allow his strokeplay to affect their body language and stayed on their toes. Yet, even luck seemed to desert Bengal as Iresh Saxena dropped a sharp chance with Kohli on 74.
It took a smart piece of fielding and an accurate throw by Arindam Das from wide gully to end Kohli’s attempt to steal a single and his entertaining innings. In no time, Delhi lost Manhas, Gaurav Chabra and Punit Bisht as well and was down to 295 for six, showcasing the value of Kohli’s approach and his massive contribution to the chase of 474 runs.
Kohli’s knock may have had class written all over it, but Bengal bowlers and fielders’ hard work helped the visiting side keep their nose ahead in the contest that combined the enthralling and the excruciating.