In front of a packed, boisterous crowd and omnipresent local political honchos, all eager to rub shoulders with them, India’s famed opening duo found its chinks exposed against an innocuous but disciplined Uttar Pradesh bowling line-up on Friday.
An angry swish of the bat from Virender Sehwag and a helpless gaze at the umpire by Gautam Gambhir were enough to suggest that the two haven’t yet banished their recent travails resulting from uncertain judgement outside off stump.
On the first day of their Ranji Trophy tie against Uttar Pradesh, Sehwag and Gambhir got a tough job straightaway, asked to handle seamers on a fresh wicket against the new ball.
Gambhir went into a shell. Sehwag, watchful for the first few overs, waited for something aimed at his body and of generous length. It took a long time coming. But once he broke the torpor with a three towards midwicket, he decided to break free.
But poor form chased him as he edged one to slip where Raina grassed it, edged another that dropped short and then drove at one that cut him into half.
Class, however, is permanent and it came across as well. A drive through long off and a glance to fine leg off Bhuvaneshwar Kumar fetched him fours, so did a couple of punches through covers and midwicket off Praveen Kumar.
The first hour was dealt with safely. The easier phase turned out the most deadly as Praveen, the domestic workhorse bowling his seventh over, found the edge of Sehwag’s bat, which was taken by Mohd Kaif at slip.
Gambhir, after his dour effort, shouldered arms to a ball that straightened. Virat Kohli, exuding confidence, entertained the crowd briefly before he edged one to slip.
India U-19 skipper Unmukt Chand batted well for 28 but was unlucky — the ball ballooned up from the foot of the forward short leg fielder to be caught.
The superstars were back in the hut before lunch and Delhi’s warhorses, Mithun Manhas and Puneet Bisht, were left to resurrect the innings. They added 86.
Ahead of this high-profile game, the focus was on the India stars. But no one could have imagined Imtiaz Ahmad, a 26-year-old paceman from Bhadoi, to grab the limelight.
He ran through the middle order, adding four more wickets to that of Gambhir.
Perhaps the only regret he left with was of a disappointed Virender Sehwag, shunning limelight and media these days, excusing himself from giving away the player-of-the-day award to him.
He didn’t mind that. After all, he shone more than the stars.