A four-prong pace attack is considered a luxury in most conditions around the world. But to go in with a pace battery on the opening day of the Ranji Trophy can seem rather overambitious, especially if one of the four is on debut. But Rajasthan were brave enough to take this gamble.
There are two factors that you desperately hope to go your way. Firstly, that the pitch and the outfield aren’t too dissimilar in colour-which was the case at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium on the eve of the clash-and secondly, and most importantly, that your captain wins the toss, which Ashok Menaria duly did on Thursday morning.
Once Menaria had unleashed his fast bowlers in these dream conditions, Deepak Chahar & Co justified the strategy in the most comprehensive fashion possible by running through a hapless Delhi batting line-up and dismissing them for just 138 within two sessions on the opening day. And by stumps, Rajasthan had halved the deficit by reaching 74/3 with skipper Menaria unbeaten on 19.
Chahar might have ended the day as the star performer, having picked up his first five-wicket haul in two years — and only his second since the magical figures of 8/10 that he returned on debut in 2010 — but Delhi’s demolition was carried out courtesy a collective effort, with the other three coming to the party in equal measure. Left-armers Aniket Choudhary had the second-best figures with 3/26 as he scythed through the middle-order while Manjeet Choudhary and debutant Nathu Singh ended up with a wicket apiece.
That Nathu, Rajasthan’s new pace sensation, was the second-change option only put things into perspective in terms of the lovely mix of youth and experience in the attack, in the absence of veteran Pankaj Singh.
There was both generous bounce and lateral movement on offer from the Jaipur wicket. And the Delhi openers looked shaky from the start. The Rajasthan bowlers were sticking to the plan chalked out for each one of them, almost to perfection. If Chahar was using his swing to fetch wickets, Aniket kept hitting the good length area along with using his height to push the Delhi batsmen on to the back-foot.
And it was Chahar who got the first breakthrough, castling Unmukt Chand having penetrated the gap between bat and pad. This after the Delhi opener had struck a sweetly-timed off-drive in the previously. This time, Chahar had smartly pitched the ball just that slight bit fuller to beat Chand’s flowing bat. Delhi captain, Gautam Gambhir, though looked to be coming into his own by the time Chahar and Aniket began tiring, taking on Rajasthan’s premier pacer. That forced Menaria to move on to his second-set of pacers in the 15th over.
The two youngsters ensured that the pressure wasn’t released. If Manjeet mixed up his deliveries, Nathu was getting balls to skid off the surface, and he came close to making a dream start by dismissing Gambhir but Vineet Saxena failed to hold on to the catch. Manjeet struck soon after, getting Vaibhav Rawal caught behind.
Menaria immediately turned back to Chahar. He would later admit that the SG ball starts moving a lot more once it’s 10-overs old. And he looked a different beast in his second spell. He also used the crease intelligently, going wide to get Milind Kumar lbw with a sharp in-dipper. Then came the big scalp as he had Gambhir driving loosely, and getting him caught by wicket-keeper Dishant Yagnik to reduce Delhi to 53/4.
In walked, debutant Mohit Ahlawat. But unfortunately for the youngster, otherwise known for his calm demeanour, he succumbed to the pressure and lasted just four deliveries. Manan Sharma joined in the pavilion not long after, to leave Delhi reeling at 56/6.
Nathu could have joined the wicket-taking party on two occasions, but he was guilty of over-stepping the line on both occasions when he got the better of Sumit Narwal and Yogesh Nagar. The duo had before long put on 48 runs in aggressive fashion for the seventh wicket. It is then that Nathu struck, this time in legitimate fashion, getting Narwal caught off a slower delivery to open his account in the wickets’ column.
With Delhi having lost eight wickets, Chahar needed one more to complete his five-wicket haul. And Parwinder Awana duly obliged, edging an away-going delivery to Puneet Yadav at slip before Aniket ended Delhi’s misery at the other end on a day that a Ranji team took a rather unique gamble, before proving it right in dramatic fashion.
Brief scores: Delhi 138 all out in 47 overs (Gautam Gambhir 24, Sumit Narwal 25; Deepak Chahar 5/60, Aniket Chaudhary 3/26) vs Rajasthan 74/3 in 34 overs (Pranay Sharma 42; Sumit Narwal 2/15).