That Nathu Singh would have finished the third day’s play in Jaipur with mixed feelings is understandable. Here was a young man making his first-class debut in a Ranji Trophy season-opener against a strong Delhi outfit, and he had finished his second outing with a seven-wicket haul. His remarkable figures of 7/87 had included the high-profile scalp of Gautam Gambhir. It had also included a three-wicket burst that had engineered a middle-order collapse for Delhi and had handed his team, Rajasthan, a massive advantage.
Still, Nathu wasn’t quite the star of the day. Not even close. The raw tearaway had instead seen his thunder being completely eclipsed by a wily veteran. And with his swashbuckling unbeaten century — 106 off 94 balls — Sumit Narwal had not only gate-crashed Nathu’s party but also taken Delhi from troubled waters to the driver’s seat going into the final day. This after he had walked out to bat at No.9 with the Delhi score reading 291/7, a lead of just 189, thanks to Nathu’s exploits. In the end, thanks to Narwal’s contribution, Delhi were left defending a massive total of 336 on a dicey wicket and already having gotten rid of a Rajasthan opener.
But till the time Narwal walked out to the crease, Nathu was putting on a pace-bowling master-class on debut. He was also the only one to generate bounce off a wicket where otherwise the ball was rarely climbing over the batsman’s knees. But it was by sticking to a fuller length that Nathu picked up his biggest wicket of the day, trapping Delhi skipper Gambhir in front, that too after the veteran opener had got his eye in and reached 93. Gambhir had till that point kept the youngster in check, but Nathu was impressing with each over. He was also showcasing a skill-set that you don’t often expect from a young tearaway, combining control and precision with consistent pace.
He was also not predictable, keeping the batsmen guessing. And he also showed his bowling nous in the manner in which he set up Milind Kumar, before knocking him out.
Having pushed him back with a bunch of short deliveries, he surprised him with one that was pitched up and deviated away to take his edge. Two balls later, he induced an edge off Yogesh Nagar before snaring fellow debutante Mohit Ahlawat the same way. Nathu was testing the Delhi batsmen by pitching it short, but he was getting rid of them by pitching it up.
But considering that he went out for a couple of overs in his first innings due to a sprain, Nathu showed that he has the potential to bowl long spells and also that he was someone who possesses sheer power to generate pace from a deteriorating wicket. Prior to his debut, Nathu had spoken about what he was most looking forward to, bowling fast and doing so on a regular basis. Here, at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, he was walking the talk.
His best dismissal was that of Vaibhav Rawal, who at 6’3’’ failed to fend off a short pitched delivery. Barring Nathu, no other bowler was even close to getting such steep bounce off the wicket. In all he bowled 24 overs on Saturday, and his pace never fell off. Glenn McGrath admitted once that a spell of 25 overs was what he considered to be a good day at the office. He must be proud to see his ward Nathu, who attended MRF pace camp and caught the eye of the Australian legend, proving his worth.
But support wasn’t at hand from the other end, and Narwal, who had 13 years ago scored his maiden first-class century against Bihar while playing for Haryana, was holding court and also playing saviour for Delhi. Though renowned more for his swing bowling, the Delhi seamer was ruining what had looked like a perfect outing for Nathu and Rajasthan. By the time Narwal reached 99, he had just Pawan Suyal left for company, but the No.11 held his ground to ensure that his new-ball partner reached his milestone, and more crucially ensured that Nathu didn’t walk away with all the honours.
Brief scores: Delhi 138 & 437/9 decl in 124.5 overs (Sumit Narwal 106 n.o., Gautam Gambhir 93, Unmukt Chand 84; Nathu Singh 7/87) vs Rajasthan 240 & 20/1 in 13 overs (Pawan Suyal 1/6).