No sooner had Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli stepped into the only net pitched on the ground than the crowd of over 500 screamed out their names.In Ghaziabad's backstreets where the Nehru Stadium venue for the Delhi-UP Ranji tie — is located, there is a festive atmosphere. A shamiana runs around the periphery, the pavilion and even the iron shutters that act as doors to the dressing room have been given a fresh coat of varnish. Everything has been spruced up at a cost of Rs 50 lakh.
Initially, the tie was scheduled to be held in Meerut but was shifted closer to Delhi due to security reasons. The practice facilities, as Delhi coach Vijay Dahiya admitted, may not be sufficient to host two teams at a time, but the initial fervour beats Ferozshah Kotla hands down. And yes, there is a clamour for passes, a rarity for a Ranji tie.
The India openers' poor form and their desperation to get runs here has attracted huge interest. Sehwag and Gambhir are playing Ranji cricket after a long time. Paceman Ishant Sharma, on a comeback after injury, is looking to get back into rhythm and so is Uttar Pradesh seamer Praveen Kumar.
"I took four wickets in an innings in Duleep Trophy. I am fit," declared Praveen, struggling to fathom why he has been kept out of all formats by the national selectors.
"This tie is important," said the pacer.
Venkatesh Prasad, the new UP coach, has been instilling into the players, pacers in particular, the virtues needed to do well in first-class cricket.
“With so much limited-overs games, I have been insisting on the need to occupy the crease and to bowl in pairs. We are carrying the bowling machine. Besides, I am emphasising on catching practice,” said the former India paceman. Praveen said: “He is good, very disciplined and expects that from us too.”
The pitch has got rave reviews but the outfield looks below par. “It is very good surface (the pitch), I can't ask for anything better,” said Dahiya.
DDCA vice-president, Chetan Chauhan, said, “No concerns. They have watered the outfield so it has become soft. Naturally, you can't expect smaller centres to have the high standards of a Test centre.”