It looked like business as usual for Gautam Gambhir as he entered the nets at the DRIEMS College Ground in Tangi, about 20 kilometres off Cuttack. Far afield in Adelaide, India were playing their World Cup opener against Pakistan. Gambhir — he was central to India’s title triumph four years ago — was busy preparing for the Ranji Trophy quarter-final against Mumbai that starts here from Monday.
So much has changed between April 2, 2011 and February 15, 2015. Gambhir didn’t even make the World Cup probables this time and, also, missed out on a central contract. The Delhi captain remained stoic despite these frustrations.
His friend and team coach Vijay Dahiya offered perspective. “Experience teaches you so much. For both Gautam and Viru (Virender Sehwag), their absolute focus is on doing well in the Ranji Trophy,” he said.
Sehwag, another titan in India’s World Cup success in 2011, skipped the nets on match eve due to a viral infection. The sickness forced him to sit out of Delhi’s final group game against Punjab, but this is a match against Mumbai and he will play.
“This match is always special. It has a history of great players on both sides. It will be a great contest,”says Mumbai captain Aditya Tare by way of explanation.
Usually, Mumbai start as favourites in this contest. Head-to-head gives them the edge. In 26 matches since 1956, Mumbai have won 10 times and took first-innings lead on nine occasions.
The situation, this season, is a little different. Delhi are the form team of the tournament with five outright wins in the group stage. They logged 37 points in eight matches to top Group B. Mumbai, on the other hand, have laboured their way to the knockouts. They were close to being eliminated, but Madhya Pradesh couldn’t beat Bengal in their final group league game, while Mumbai took the first-innings lead against Karnataka.
Mumbai have been in turmoil off the field as well. They’ve even witnessed a change of guard mid-season with Suryakumar Yadav quitting the captaincy and Tare stepping in.Among batsmen, only Shreyas Iyer and Yadav been consistent with 649 runs and 601 runs respectively from eight matches each. Medium pacer Shardul Thakur has carried the bowling with 31 wickets.
Delhi have had the privilege of their old guards returning to form. Gambhir is the top-scorer for the side with 530 runs in eight matches, while Sehwag has made 500 runs in seven matches. Also, young Unmukt Chand has finally started to get his act right, scoring 516 runs, including three centuries. On the bowling front, left-arm spinners Varun Sood and Manan Sharma, right-arm off-spinner Shivam Sharma have shared 69 wickets between them.