Vadodara:Gautam Gambhir (51 not out) offers a glint of hope but a wobbly start to an uphill chase had Delhi precariously poised and they would require a string of extraordinary performances on Saturday to stop Rest of India from lifting the Irani Cup.
The Anil Kumble-led Rest of India set Delhi a stiff target of 378 on a fast-wearing track and then Zaheer Khan strike early double blow including the prized scalp of Virender Sehwag (8) to take the sting out of Delhi's riposte, reducing them to 113 for three.
Gambhir found a gritty ally in Rajat Bhatia (31) and the duo cobbled together 76 runs to steady the ship before the right-hander fell to Harbhajan Singh in the last delivery of the day.
Gambhir's unbeaten 51 included eight hits to the fence and Delhi's hopes to score another 268 runs for a memorable win would centre around the attacking left-hander.
With Aakash Chopra nursing a twisted ankle, Sehwag walked out to open with Gambhir but was back in the hut soon after Zaheer Khan trapped the Delhi captain in the third over of the day.
Virat Kohli contributed 16 before departing in the same manner, leaving the side in a precarious situation.
The setbacks had no bearing on Gambhir's approach and the left-hander was particularly harsh on RP Singh, hitting him for three boundaries in an over.
Although Anil Kumble almost caught him off his own bowling, the left-hander continued with the fortune of the brave to complete an unbeaten half-century.
Earlier, Delhi spinner Chetanya Nanda went on to complete his five-wicket haul but Mahendra Singh Dhoni's (84) daredevilry and Rahul Dravid's (69) diligence shored up Rest of India.
RP Singh came up with a 22-ball cameo of 24 down the order to help the side score 302 in their second essay, in addition to their 75-run first innings lead.
Rest of India resumed their second innings on 99 for one but Ishant Sharma's double strikes in the ninth over of the day put them on a spot of bother.
S Badrinath (36) had his timbers rattled by Ishant for the second time in the tie and Mohammad Kaif (0) could not bolster his claim for an Indian team berth as he perished caught behind two balls later.
VVS Laxman (18) never looked in trouble but the self-destructive streak got the better of him and the stylish right-hander played against Nanda's spin and substitute fielder Mayank Tehlan pouched the leading edge.
Dravid and Dhoni were quick on the damage-control mode and their contrasting approach only made life difficult for the Delhi bowlers.
A copybook straight drive off Pradeep Sangwan fetched Dravid his 100th fifty in first class cricket but little before lunch, he fell in the slip off Nanda.
Realising he would have only the tail to bat with, Dhoni upped the tempo and chose Sehwag for special treatment.
The swashbuckler displayed his vast range of shots, both routine and recherche, and treated the Delhi attack with characteristic disdain.
He slog-swept Sehwag for a boundary, came shimmying down the track, hit him over head and four times reverse-swept the part-time off-spinner en route to an entertaining knock.
But with Anil Kumble (9) Harbhajan Singh (0) and Zaheer Khan (4) returning in quick succession, Dhoni had no other way but to throw his bat at anything and everything.
One such desperate effort saw him jabbing at an Ishant delivery away from the body to find Virat Kohli in the slips and exit after an 113-ball 84 that was studded with 12 boundaries besides a towering six off Nanda which landed in the press box.
Nanda returned an impressive figure of 5-48, while Ishant claimed three for 52.