Focus on Kotla pitch as much as talented cricketers

It is a bit of a travesty that on the eve of the high-profile Ranji Trophy superleague group A cricket match between Delhi and Bengal at the Ferozshah Kotla, the focus of all and sundry was largely on the pitch.

Of course, there is some wonderful talent stacked up on either squad – be it Bengal’s Manoj Tiwary, Abhishek Jhunjhunwala, Wriddhiman Saha and Ranadeb Bose or be it Delhi’s Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rajat Bhatia and Pradeep Sangwan, to name a few. Yet, on Sunday, the cricket fraternity inevitably paid more than usual attention to the track.

Given that the International Cricket Council imposed a 12-month ban on the Kotla after a one-day international featuring Sri Lanka was be abandoned on December 27 last due to a dangerous pitch, it was hard for anyone to pretend that the strip being readied for the Ranji game would not be the focal point.

The Kotla groundstaff is confident that the pitch will behave better and that the teams would enjoy squaring up against one another in their opening first-class game of the season. With Delhi’s attack revolving around the seamers, it is likely that the green tinge will remain in place and raise the hopes of the bowlers.

With the two rollers parked a fair distance away from the pitch on the eve of the game, it is clear that the home side was loading the tilting the scales towards its trio of Sangwan, Bhatia and Sumit Narwal. But Bengal’s seasoned Ranadeb Bose and the lively Ashoke Dinda, supported by Laxmi Ratan Shukla can pose challenges to the home batsmen.

Bengal won just one game last season and finished low in the group table but a new dynamism is evident – and not just because the team has a new captain in Tiwary and former India opener WV Raman has returned as coach. The vibrancy stems from the belief that the team has the wherewithal to challenge strong sides in the group like Delhi, Mumbai, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.

“Our team recognises the league group as challenging and as a huge opportunity to get noticed with consistent performances against such teams,” Raman said. “What better way to start that journey than with a good showing in Delhi. The team did well to win its four games in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy tournament and can show the intensity needed here.”

Many have found it tempting to look at the game as a clash between Delhi’s Virat Kohli and the Bengal skipper Tiwary but no game of cricket must be viewed as a match between two batsmen. The teams are quite evenly matched and the squad that can overcome the doubts about the track and adapt quickly can get its nose ahead of its rival.

“We will be without four players who are on India duty but we have the team to deliver the goods,” Delhi coach Manoj Prabhakar said. “We have a squad that is brimming with self-belief, with each player capable of pulling his weight. The players are not too worried about how the track will play and are focussed on giving our best effort on the field.”

Raman and Prabhakar preferred not to risk naming their playing XI on Sunday but exuded confidence that their teams would be competitive and intense through the four days that will set the tone for the rest of the season.

The teams:

Bengal (from): Avishek Chowdhury, Anustup Majumder, Arindam Das, Sreevats Goswami, Manoj Tiwary (captain), Abhishek Jhunjhunwala, Wriddhiman Saha (wicket keeper), Arindam Ghosh, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Sourashish Lahiri, Shiv Sagar Singh, Ranadeb Bose, Ashoke Dinda, Iresh Saxena and Md Shami Ahmed.

Delhi (from): Mayank Tehlan, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Aditya Jain, Mithun Manhas (captain), Rajat Bhatia, Gaurav Chhabra, Chetan Sharma, Punit Bisht (wicket-keeper), Sumit Narwal, Pradeep Sangwan, Parwinder Awana, Pawan Suyal, Chetanya Nanda and Vikas Mishra.

Here is a link to the report in The Telegraph where this piece appeared first