Delhi had three notable absentees for their Elite Group B Ranji Trophy fixture against Bengal that commenced at the Eden Gardens on Sunday. Fast bowler Navdeep Saini, despite having a thorough net session on match eve, sat out. Middle-order batsman Dhruv Shorey and left-arm spinner Vikas Mishra, who had a six-for in their last game against Madhya Pradesh, too, didn’t feature in the playing XI.
Delhi team manager Shankar Saini had a sketchy answer, which hid more than it revealed, when asked about their absence. “There’s no need to furnish details. They have (medical) issues. Minor issues,” he told reporters, adding: “With an eye to their career, we didn’t want to take chances. Our physio is assessing them.” The manager, though, didn’t reveal the nature of injuries.
The depleted Delhi squad, in desperate need of an outright victory, to at least mathematically keep their knockout hopes alive, chose to bat first on a pretty decent surface. But the morning nip helped the ball bend in the air and Ashok Dinda immediately got into his groove.
The Bengal seamer cleaned up opener Kunal Chandela off the fourth ball of the match. He then added Anuj Rawat and Hiten Dalal to his kitty after the latter survived two very confident shouts for caught behind off Dinda. Umpiring continues to be poor in the Ranji Trophy, but Dinda got his man on the third attempt. This time, it was a thick edge to the ‘keeper. His first spell read: 9-3-21-3. The veteran medium pacer finished with 4/62 from 22 overs.
Off-spinner Aamir Gani accounted for skipper Nitish Rana, who had had a reprieve with Manoj Tiwary dropping a sharp chance. At 62/4, Delhi struggling. It soon became 73/5 when Mukesh Kumar removed Himmat Singh. Delhi needed someone to stand up to be counted. Jonty Sidhu rose to the challenge.
The 2016-17 season was Jonty’s breakthrough term at the junior level when he scored 874 runs from nine games in the Cooch Behar Trophy and was named the India U-19 captain for two four-day matches against the England colts in Nagpur.
His friend Rishabh Pant, too, was steadily rising through the ranks. The latter took the elevator to the top level while Jonty — his cricket-crazy father Rajinder is an avid Jonty Rhodes admirer — was left waiting for his opportunities to play the Ranji Trophy.
As Rana and Himmat went for the Emerging Cup in Sri Lanka, Jonty was drafted into the Delhi Ranji squad this term. The 21-year-old left-hander made his first-class debut against Andhra earlier this month. Against Bengal on Sunday, he played his natural game and punished the loose balls. He looked well-set for his maiden Ranji hundred, but a Writtick Chatterjee skidder from around the wicket ended his innings on 85. But his resolve, and a 96-run sixth-wicket partnership with Shivam Sharma somewhat steadied the ship for the visitors.
“Very disappointed that I missed the century. I did a lot of hard work to get there. The pitch was assisting the seamers. I didn’t have a specific plan. Just played the ball on merit. But I played a loose shot to get out. Still, this is my maiden Ranji Trophy half-century, a very important knock,” the youngster said after the day’s play.
Bengal waited till the 73rd over to introduce spin from the Club House End and Chatterjee, a part-time offie, dismissed Jonty in his first over. Even Bengal team mentor Arun Lal was baffled by the ‘late show’. “Yes, it was a little late,” he said.
Lal also rued the fact that the hosts failed to grab the game by the scruff of the neck when Delhi were five down with very little on the board. “Just one more wicket would have completely tilted the balance in our favour. The spinners had to step up.”
The Bengal team management has made its displeasure known over the fact that they weren’t allowed ‘home advantage’ in this must-win game. The hosts wanted a square turner but the curator laid out a strip which Lal described “a 400-run wicket”.
Brief scores: Delhi 240 all out in 83.3 overs (Jonty Sidhu 85, Shivam Sharma 42; Ashok Dinda 4/62) vs Bengal