In a television show last year, former skipper Sourav Ganguly was asked about Virat Kohli’s confidence. He said: “I’m not surprised. He is from Delhi.”
As a battered Australia look to end the Test tour, it is only fitting India take them on one last time in Delhi, the aggressive face of the nation's cricket, and the most successful at the moment.
The latest Delhi player to hog the headlines, Shikhar Dhawan, blew away the Aussies in the Mohali Test with the fastest century by a debutant. Though he will miss the final match due to injury, it is unlikely the other two Delhi boys, Virat and Ishant Sharma, will play generous hosts.
Ganguly's statement drove home the point about Delhi's impact on Indian cricket in the last 10-12 years. Mumbai and Delhi were the early traditional rivals in Indian cricket. Mumbai and Karnataka then dominated the India team in the 1990s and in the early part of the last decade. Delhi now has taken the lead by providing many impact players.
Dhawan’s ton intimidated the Aussies as much as Virender Sehwag’s 195 did at Melbourne in 2003. Left-arm paceman Ashish Nehra’s six-wicket haul against England at Durban in the 2003 World Cup, Gautam Gambhir's 97 in the 2011 World Cup final and Virat’s knocks at crucial times have driven India. The star-in-waiting is Unmukt Chand, the U-19 World Cup skipper.
The determination to overcome stiff competition and an at-times insensitive local cricket administration moulds players from the capital. “I guess we are naturally aggressive,” Dhawan said in a recent interview with HT. “Besides, we play so much cricket through the year.”
“People won't believe it, but Delhi can provide an even bigger proportion of the India team, provided players are groomed better,” says ex-Delhi and India spinner of the 1980s, Maninder Singh.
Despite giving so many Test cricketers in recent times, Delhi has never had a strong days' game structure like Mumbai or Chennai. There was SAIL Trophy in the 90s but it did not last.
“The absence of days' games is a handicap. But it has been a blessing in disguise. While guys like Wasim Jaffer still rack up tons of runs in domestic cricket as they have come up playing duration games, 40 or 45-over league matches have taught Delhi kids to be street smart and aggressive,” he says.
Mumbai walked away with three of the four titles in domestic cricket this year - U-16, U-25 and Ranji Trophy -- after reaching the final in all four, including U-19. Delhi made just the final of U-16.
Yet, Delhi produces many players due to sheer competition. Delhi and District Cricket Association president, Arun Jaitley, said in a meeting in December. “Players from all over North Zone come and play here.” He could have also easily mentioned those from Central.
Sanjeev Sharma, a former India player and Delhi official touched this point. “The league begins in cold and moist weather when batting is a challenge and by the time it and other local tournaments end, it is peak summer. It teaches them how to handle different conditions.”
No wonder Virat swears by Delhi. “Delhi means everything to me,” he says. “This city has given me everything and I love it.”