It will be a battle between a set of players who have played alongside each other in national colours as Delhi take on the might of the India Blues in the final of the NKP Salve Challenger Trophy at Indore today.
Led by the enterprising Virat Kohli, Delhi has a nice blend of both youth and experience. Prominent among the former include India U-19 World Cup winning skipper Unmukt Chand, whose blazing century against India Red powered his side into the summit clash.
In recent times, Chand has been in sublime touch, having recorded substantial scores against New Zealand A. He hits the ball hard, runs swiftly between the wickets, and is a useful fielder as well. Because he can give Delhi the flying start they will desperately hope for, India Blue will do well to knock him over early.
The Delhi skipper himself has lost none of the brashness of youth, although it is now tempered by his new-found maturity, having led the national ODI side to glory in Zimbabwe. His shots on the leg side, particularly the flick and the on-drive, are a treat to watch, and he is capable of accelerating the run rate when required. With the likes of Gambhir and Sehwag in the side, Kohli need look no further when deciding strategy.
Sehwag, on a comeback trail, has begun re-inventing himself as a middle-order batsman. Not that it isn’t a particularly good move, but a large number of his successes have always occurred at the top of the order. I’d prefer if Kohli decides to reunite the Nawab of Najafgarh with Gautam Gambhir at the top of the order – Sehwag’s initial onslaught, backed by Gambhir’s solidity, will help the side a lot especially if Chand falls early.
Ashish Nehra and the young left-arm spinner, Varun Sood have been firing on all cylinders, while all-rounder Rajat Bhatia’s long spell in domestic cricket has translated into fine, if not match-winning performances in this series. Parvinder Awana and Pawan Suyal can control the flow of runs as long as they can keep their cool. On paper, Delhi does have the firepower to withstand India Blue.
But the opposition, bolstered by the return of their in-form skipper Yuvraj Singh and a winning run right into the final, will not be a pushover. Yuvraj Singh is back, doing what he does best – destroy the rival bowling attack with his characteristic huge hits and fluent drives on both sides of the wicket. Even spin, which he has noticeably struggled against, hasn’t been as effective as it used to be. Delhi’s bowlers will have a hard time indeed once he gets going.
Abhishek Nayar has shouldered the middle-order responsibilities well, but it is the top order which has been a bit of a worry. Naman Ojha hasn’t given them the best of starts, and Manish Pandey, despite scoring 70 against India Red, is not the most consistent of openers. So the runs will have to come from young Akshath Reddy, who impressed in the last game, with Ojha playing the perfect foil and Pandey accelerating at No. 3.
On the bowling front, Bhuvneshwar Kumar would try to rectify the mistakes of the last game and he will have his hands full if Sehwag, Kohli and Gambhir start going after him. Vinay Kumar, though among the wickets, has a tendency to spray the ball all over the wicket, and he, too, will have to pull up his socks in order to control the rampaging trio. It will be up to spinners Piyush Chawla and Iresh Saxena to contain the flow of runs and take wickets, while Yuvraj himself can send down a few tight overs if need be.
Conditions on offer
The pitch is expected to play true to both batsmen and bowlers, though the spinners might come into play sooner than expected, given the amount of turn that Sood was able to extract against India Red. The side that wins the toss should look to bat first and post a tall score, and then take wickets at regular intervals to stop the other in their tracks.
So on current form, India Blue should be able to get their hands on the trophy, though it will be an even contest. Good way to start a Sunday morning!