Guarded optimism stands out in the battle of equals

Quietly confident, Delhi and Vidarbha are looking to end their extended stay in the Ranji Trophy on a high. Over the next five days, the home-stretch should provide plenty of excitement in this race of equals.

The finalists exceeded all expectations in reaching this far in the National championship. If last year, Gujarat upstaged Mumbai here at the Holkar Stadium for its maiden triumph, Vidarbha is looking to do the same against seven-time champion Delhi. What more, skipper Faiz Fazal is already talking about leading Vidarbha in the Irani Cup tie.

Delhi is far less desperate. The team returns to this venue where it defeated Baroda in the semifinals and went on to beat Uttar Pradesh in Mumbai when it last won the title in 2008.

Not surprisingly, temperamental opener Gautam Gambhir is the only surviving member from that victorious team. He hit a match-winning 132 against Baroda and smashed an unbeaten 132 against UP in the final. At present, the 36-year-old left-hander is showing the same ominous form.

This season, Gambhir has top-scored with an aggregate of 632 in 10 innings, including three centuries and two half centuries. Vidarbha will need no reminding how important Gambhir’s wicket could be.

Leave out Gambhir, and Delhi’s batting looks far less than formidable. Though youngsters like opener Kunal Chandela and middle-order batsman Himmat Singh remain impressive, the left-handed duo of Nitish Rana and skipper Rishabh Pant have shown inconsistency.

Among the bowlers, pacer Navdeep Saini has been the most impressive, taking 29 wickets behind left-arm spinner Vikas Mishra (32). Much will depend on how Saini shows up here. His fiery spell against Bengal last week turned a memorable one and condemned the opposition to a humiliating innings-loss. Saini has already done enough to impress the selectors. Should he continue the good work in the remainder of the season, he could well don the National colours in the coming year.

Ironical as it may sound, Delhi has some exciting batsmen upfront, projects a suspect middle-order and a long tail. Vidarbha could well learn from Bengal and not underestimate Delhi’s collective strength.

On its part, Vidarbha has clearly benefited from the presence of wily coach Chandrakant Pandit. All credit to the team that responded to the demands of Pandit and scored over teams like Bengal, Punjab and Karnataka this season.

The batting looks sound in the hands of Faiz Fazal (843 runs), fellow opener R. Sanjay (735), G. Satish (626) and Wasim Jaffer (500). But bowling could be a source of worry.

Though the much-talked about pacer Rajneesh Gurbani (31 wickets), riding on the back of a 12-wicket haul against Karnataka, will be one to watch out for, the absence of Umesh Yadav is bound to effect the fast bowling resources.

Off-spinner Akshay Wakhare (29 wickets) and left-arm spinner Aditya Sarvate (26 wickets) could make a serious difference should they get assistance from the red-clay pitch here. As a replacement to Umesh, Lalit Yadav (15 wickets) could be considered ahead of Adiya Thakre, standby for India’s World Cup (under-19) squad.

The teams (from):

Delhi: Rishabh Pant (Capt.), Gautam Gambhir, Kunal Chandela, Dhruv Shorey, Nitish Rana, Himmat Singh, Manan Sharma, Vikas Tokas, Navdeep Saini, Vikas Mishra, Kulwant Khejroliya, Unmukt Chand, Akash Sudan and Milind Kumar.

Vidarbha: Faiz Fazal (Capt.), R. Sanjay, Wasim Jaffer, G. Satish, Apoorv Wankhede, Akshay Wadkar, Aditya Sarvate, Akshay Wakhare, Rajneesh Gurbani, Sidhesh Neral, Lalit Yadav, Karn Sharma, Akshay Karnewar and Aditya Thakre.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 7:47:43 AM |

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