Delhi wicketkeeper Anuj Rawat made his first-class debut in October 2017. In the subsequent two seasons, spanning 18 matches, the team management has shuffled him up and down the order — from an opener to a lower middle-order batsman. And whenever the incumbent Rishabh Pant returns to the fray, Rawat is included in the team as a batsman. This constant chopping and changing has played a part in his below-par career numbers — 877 runs at an average of just over 30.
These numbers suggest that the youngster is yet to realise his full potential in this format. On Thursday, he showed what he is capable of when he walked out to bat as an opener. Against Gujarat at the Feroz Shah Kotla, Rawat brought up his second first-class century and gave his team a chance of going for a win. His brilliant counter-attacking knock of 133 was laced with 15 boundaries and two sixes. The circumstances under which he showcased this knock makes it more special. Delhi had conceded a crucial 42-run first-innings lead after Gujarat were bowled out for 335. Support came in the form of Jonty Sidhu’s unbeaten 96-ball 44. Together, their 106-run fourth-wicket alliance took them to a fairly comfortable 228/4 at stumps on Day Three — their overall lead swelling to 186 runs.
However, he admits that playing in the opening slot gives him utmost satisfaction. “That’s the slot where I love to bat. It frees me from the pressures of batting down the order,” he quips.
In this season, he has featured in seven matches. But it’s as an opener that he’s orchestrated highly impactful knocks. Before Thursday, he produced a well-compiled 87 in the opening fixture against Kerala. That match may have meandered into a draw but Rawat’s was a standout innings. Rawat’s all-round efforts are highly commendable. He led his team’s charge on Thursday after keeping for over 86 overs, and then batted for 63 overs. It just shows the kind of stamina the youngster possesses. When asked about his efforts today, the 20-year-old had only this to say: “The results are there for everyone to see.”
The former India U-19 captain will now be hoping that this innings is a catalyst of change. For that to happen, he would do well to become more consistent. “This is a team of youngsters. Barring Dhruv Shorey and Nitish Rana, the rest of our order is very fluid. But I would love to bat in one particular slot for a sustained period,” he says.
Going forward, Rawat would like to become a lot more consistent in this format — something that could earn him call-ups to India A tours in the future. The good news is that even Rahul Dravid, the National Cricket Academy director has earmarked him as the player for the future. On Thursday, he may have survived two dropped catches early in his innings. But there’s little denying that it was an innings that has given Delhi hope of going for a win on the final day. “We will assess the conditions in the morning. The truth is that we don’t have a target in our minds. The morning session tomorrow will be crucial.” he says.
Rawat is not off the mark. With the winter in full bloom, pacers from both teams have held sway in these three days’ play. On Day 1, Gujarat’s bowlers picked up three wickets in the opening session. The second day accounted for five scalps, while the third day saw as many as six wickets. Such was the scenario that even Rana bowled military medium seam-ups today, and picked up two wickets.
The match is still tantalisingly poised. If Delhi’s batsmen hold fort in the first session, it will give the home team a realistic chance of going for a win. Rawat, though, remains optimistic. “The wicket is good for batting but it is slightly up and down at times. But yes, bowlers need to bend their backs for getting rewards,” he concludes.
Brief Scores: Delhi 293 and 228/4 (Anuj Rawat 133, Jonty Sidhu 48) lead Gujarat 335 (Manprit Juneja 124, Dhruv Raval 94) by 186 runs.
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