It was the liberal sprinkle of grass on the Palam pitch that prompted Delhi to include an extra pacer, Kulwant Khejroliya, in their XI against UP. Unsurprisingly too, Ishant Sharma, having won the toss, didn’t hesitate to put the visitors in.
As aeroplanes soared above this ground that sits next to the domestic airport, UP’s innings in what is practically a do-or-die match for them nearly crash-landed right after the take-off. Their opening this season has been a disaster, with 30 against Maharashtra being the highest first wicket partnership so far. They didn’t improve on it on Wednesday.
On a pitch offering assistance, Sharma and Navdeep Saini made the new ball dance. While Ishant bowled metronomically, troubling the batsmen with his disconcerting bounce from just back of a length, Saini pinged it at good length just outside off. Albas Shaukat flirted with one from Saini and was caught at slips by Unmukt Chand. UP were 18/1.
Shivam Chaudhary was soon snared by the left-arm pace of Khejroliya, who generates decent pace at an awkward angle, and the visitors were staring down the barrel. It was then that Mohammad Saif, playing his first match of the season, and Akshdeep Nath did something that UP haven’t done too often this season: put their heads down.
They saw off the tricky period, and soon with the warm early November sun out in its glory on a rare clear day in the capital, the wicket — despite the generous cover of grass — quickly eased out.
Saif played a few delectable shots, but it was mostly through singles that the duo kept the scorecard ticking. In doing so, the left-hand (Saif), right-hand (Nath) combination also ensured that the bowlers — especially the spinners — didn’t settle into any sort of rhythm.
Ironically, it was a single — actually two singles — that did the UP innings in. Having brought up his half-century, Saif, in trying to steal a quick run, dived to make his crease. His bat got stuck in the pitch and he ended up safe, but hurt his shoulder.
“Soon my whole arm starting to tighten up. I had to retire hurt,” he would later explain. Saif’s injury couldn’t have been more ill-timed for UP. Tea was approaching and Ishant had brought himself in.
Seeing the back of a well-set batsman rejuvenated the Delhi bowling. Ishant worked up hostile pace and removed Nath, inducing an outside edge, while Saini sent back Rinku Singh in a similar fashion.
Saif came back and hit a few shots to calm the dressing room down, but was run out while trying to take a single. This time, he appeared to have made the crease, but didn’t ground the bat.
“Our target was to not lose more than four wickets in the day. We have decent amount of runs on the board but have lost a few wickets extra. There’s a bit of regret that I got run out. Had I stayed on, I would have taken my team forward. We would have been 280 for five or something — an great position to be in on this wicket,” said Saif.
The wicket began to keep low and the spinners came into the equation. Suresh Raina’s torrid run continued as he was bowled a Milind delivery that kept low. He made 10. His aggregate this Ranji season is 50 in five innings.
Ishant Sharma struck again and left-arm Manan Sharma too opened his account as UP looked like folding on Day One. But Upendra Yadav shared an unbeaten 38-run stand with the No.9 Israr Azim to offer the team a glimmer of hope.
Brief scores: UP 270/8 (Mohammad Saif 83, Akshdeep Nath 59, Upendra Yadv 48; Ishant Sharma 2/37, Navdeep Saini 2/27).