INDORE: Vidarbha on Sunday inched closer to a maiden Ranji Trophy title by grabbing a commanding 233-run lead against a Delhi side that looked defeated for better part of the day, as little-known Akshay Wadkar chose first-class cricket’s biggest stage to compile his maiden century.
Playing in his fifth match of first season, wicketkeeper Wadkar rose to the occasion and remained unbeaten on 133 in a team total of 528 for seven at stumps on the third day in Indore.
In the final session, Siddhesh Neral entertained the crowd with 56 off 92 deliveries, while hitting four boundaries and as many sixes.
Delhi were bowled out for 295 in their first innings. Aditya Sarwate, with whom Wadkar stitched a decisive 169-run partnership for the seventh wicket, contributed a handsome 79 off 154 balls at the Holkar Stadium that witnessed a decent turnout.
Vidarbha, who resumed their innings at overnight 206 for four, showed the intent from the beginning and capitalised on Delhi’s lack of discretion and enthusiasm.
The seven-time winners looked shoddy on the field, dropped catches, including a crucial one off the blade of seasoned Wasim Jaffer (78) at the start of day.
Rishabh Pant lacked ideas as the skipper of the side and his outing behind the stumps left a lot to be desired. He was also guilty of missing a stumping chance.
But Delhi may have paid dearly for the miss by Kunal Chandela in second slip in fourth ball of the day’s first over. Running in hard and hitting the deck harder, a charged up Navdeep Saini had induced an edge from Jaffer but Chandela, who dived to his left ahead of first slip fielder Dhruv Shorey, spilled the offer.
Jaffer may have added only 17 runs after the reprieve, but by the time he got out after an hour and a half stay in the middle, Saini was tiring following an extended first spell that saw him bowl 10.5 overs for two wickets.
The young pacer, who often hit the early 140s, was thus deprived of a chance to run through the Vidarbha lower-order.
Eventually, it was Saini who sent back Jaffer, the multiple-time Ranji Trophy winners with Mumbai, when he caugh him plumb in front of the wicket with a ball that came in slightly.
While Delhi lacked zest, Vidarbha gradually sought to take control of the game, and the dismissal of Jaffer for 78 did not affect them.
That was primarily due to the duo of Wadkar and Sarwate, who played smarty to wear down the bowlers and fielders and take the match away from their opponents.
The 23-year-old Wadkar laced his innings with 16 boundaries and a six straight over left-arm spinner Vikas Mishra’s head.
The lack of quality spin options hurt Delhi as the bulk of the load was shared by the pace duo of Saini and Kulwant Khejroliya on an unresponsive pitch.
Akash Sudan was far from impressive and posed no threat to the Vidarbha batsmen.
Delhi’s cause was not helped by the fact that Manan Sharma was off the field for a long time, curtailing further the team’s spin options.
Veteran Gautam Gambhir was conspicuous by his absence after lunch and that also did not help either, as the young Pant looked bereft of ideas. The out-of-favour India opener
also dropped a catch off Vikas Mishra at first slip, the beneficiary being Sarwate.
It was later learnt that Gambhir has sustained a finger injury while fielding.
Meanwhile, Wadkar got to the three-figure mark with a confident smack over the mid-on fielder, as his family members in the stands rose to applaud.
Riding on his good fortune, Neral clobbered the Delhi bowlers even as no balls saved him twice off the bowling of Khejroliya.
While they racked up 130 runs in the first session for two wickets, Vidarbha strengthened their grip further with Wadkar and Sarwate first and then Neral joining the party.