A meeting of two teams that have taken different paths and are headed in opposite directions — that is how one can describe the Ranji Trophy match between Bengal and Delhi beginning from Tuesday.
Delhi with 15 points from five matches are looking to ensure qualification to the quarter-finals from Elite Division Group B and a first-innings lead — and the three points that entails —will be enough for their purposes. Their season, though, blossomed late, and it is only two wins in the last two matches, against Saurashtra and Maharashtra. One of the architects of those two wins, Virat Kohli, is now with the India ODI squad and Delhi will miss his leadership and batting.
Particularly the latter, because Delhi will also be missing experienced batsmen like Aakash Chopra and the injured Shikhar Dhawan at the top of the order. Coach Vijay Dahiya conceded the replacements have not really clicked. “To be honest, the openers Ankur Julka and Aditya Jain could have done a lot better,” Dahiya said. On the plus side, veteran Mithun Manhas, stand-in skipper Rajat Bhatia and wicketkeeper Puneet Bisht have all had some big knocks.
“We’ll decide who will replace Kohli in the morning,” said Bhatia. Delhi’s strength lies in their pace attack, especially with Ishant Sharma coming in to the squad in place of Kohli to join left-armers Pawan Suyal and Pradeep Sangwan and right-armers Sumit Narwal and Pavinder Awana. A problem of plenty, Dahiya was asked. “Well it’s a good problem to have,” he said. The Delhi coach refused to be drawn into the suggestion that a Bengal team that has no chance of progressing to the quarter-finals will be easy prey. “It is about us, not them,” Dahiya said.
For Bengal, too, introspection is the name of the game. Since their win over Maharashtra in the first match, their season has soured to the point where they managed only three points from last four matches, their downward spiral culminating in an outright loss against Uttar Pradesh. And all this with Sourav Ganguly in their ranks. Captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla, usually a patient man, was in irritable mood after his team’s practice. He tried to block queries on the exclusion of Deep Dasgupta and Rohan Gavaskar. The two veterans have been “rested”, though the grapevine has it that they have played their last match for Bengal.
“This is hopefully our last match this season,” Shukla said, though one was not sure how one could hope otherwise.“We want to finish on a high.”
Bengal really need to do that. Although nobody mentioned it on Monday, there is still a mathematical possibility for Bengal to go down from this group.
If they lose to Delhi, Saurashtra get three points against Karnataka and Maharashtra beat Baroda, Bengal will find themselves at the bottom of the heap. And back to a season in the Plate Division.