Less than 24 hours after being ignored for the Test series against South Africa, Delhi opener Aakash Chopra came out with a strong statement to register an unbeaten century against defending champions Uttar Pradesh on the opening day of their Ranji Trophy match on Friday.
After Delhi captain Mithun Manhas opted to bat on a flat Ferozeshah Kotla wicket, Chopra walked in with a completely different mindset, as if he wanted to prove a point to the national selectors. And when he finally came out after spending 373 minutes at the crease, he was unbeaten on 128 as Delhi reached 257 for six.
Unlike the last two seasons, when Chopra was castigated for his drowsy batting, the former India opener faced an experienced UP left-arm pace attack of RP Singh and Shalabh Srivastava with relative ease.
Srivastava was particularly impressive in his opening spell, getting lateral movement in the air and accounting for the in-form Shikhar Dhawan for six. The situation took a turn for the worse when Praveen Kumar, bowling superbly with a ball that had lost its shine, removed Mayank Tehlan and Manhas in quick succession.
However, an undeterred Chopra never seemed to be under pressure and remained focussed on the task of taking Delhi to a safe total. The 84-run partnership for the fourth wicket with Virat Kohli (42) was when his experience shone through. Some sensible running between the wickets by these two was the high point of the day.
Both Chopra and Kohli ran with amazing understanding — often no words were needed to confirm their calls.
“I was criticised for being too slow earlier, and it was important for me to keep rotating the strike,” Chopra admitted after the end of the day’s play. Kohli’s lone error of judgement in running, just before the tea interval, cost him his wicket as he took off for a run without waiting for Chopra’s call. The throw from the deep square-leg by Rohit Prakash caught him well short of his crease.
Rajat Bhatia, the centurion in the previous game against Tamil Nadu, was never in any kind of trouble before he was bowled by Praveen after making 32. Delhi surrendered the initiative the moment wicketkeeper Vijay Dahiya was trapped plumb in front of the wicket by Praveen before he could open his account. Praveen was the pick of the UP attack, taking four for 53.
Delhi (1st innings): Chopra batting 128, Dhawan c Shukla b Srivastava 6, Tehlan lbw b Praveen 25, Manhas b Praveen 7, Kohli run out (Srivastava) 42, Bhatia b Praveen 32, Dahiya lbw b Praveen 0, Nanda batting 0, Extras (lb 2, w 1, nb 14): 17
Total: 257 for 6
Fall of wkts: 1-10, 2-71, 3-79, 4-163, 5-245, 6-245.
Bowling: RP Singh 21-4-72-0, Srivastava 15-2-51-1, Chawla 24-4-64-0, Praveen 25-5-53-4, Shukla 4-1-15-0.