When captains Yash Dhull and Baba Indrajith walk out for the toss for a Ranji Trophy clash between two heavyweight cricket associations, Delhi and Tamil Nadu, they will do so in hopes of getting their campaigns back on track.
Like Tamil Nadu, one of the best domestic white-ball teams by far, Delhi has recently shown that they can do well in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy. But in the Ranji Trophy, these two teams often underperform especially when you consider the resources that the Delhi & District Cricket Association and the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association have.
These two associations regularly send players to the national side. If Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant and Navdeep Saini are around for Delhi, there is R Ashwin, Washington Sundar and Dinesh Karthik for Tamil Nadu. So these two continue to nurture talent, and as they take on the third round, there’s another connecting point: both have chosen to invest in young people.
The hosts, who have just one point from two matches, will take the field without players Ishant Sharma, Saini, Simarjit Singh, Pradeep Sangwan, Mayank Yadav (all injured), while batsman Nitish Rana has been dropped for the next two matches.
Given the start they’ve had, this is the last thing Delhi would have wanted. But the schedule is such that there is only a three-day period between matches, with one day spent traveling, giving players less time to recover as temperatures reach single digits in northern India.
After losing their opening match against Maharashtra, Delhi missed out on a first innings lead against Assam. While they hope to bounce back against Tamil Nadu, the unavailability of key players will make it all the more difficult for 20-year-old Dhull.
Delhi exhausted but TN wary
Given the context, the underdog tag fits perfectly in Delhi, but Tamil Nadu are in no mood to call themselves favorites when they enter the contest. After almost taking a stunning win over Hyderabad in the first round, they lost to Andhra by just eight runs in Coimbatore last week. After dominating the game for three and a half days, one bad session cost them the game.
“It is undoubtedly a very important match,” Indrajith told The Indian Express. “Given what happened in the previous game, it is important that we rebuild before we think a little too far ahead in terms of a first innings lead or an outright win.
“The focus is to go back and play the kind of cricket we want to play, as we did in the first game against Hyderabad and for the most part against Andhra. It’s a process to do it all four days and to to see where we are at the end of the game.”
More than the defeat, the way it all unfolded for Tamil Nadu will undoubtedly test their resolve and their ability to mount a strong comeback. There is a possibility of Tamil Nadu bringing in pacer Aswin Crist in place of left arm spinner Ajith Ram, but it’s a call they won’t take until Tuesday morning after a final look at the Arun Jaitley Stadium pitch.
“The defeat was disheartening because it’s the kind of game you should win. When you look at it, championship teams tend to find a way to win close games. You will have a strange defeat, where you will be outplayed. But for me as a captain, winning those close games is very important. I hope we learn from our mistakes and don’t repeat them,” Indrajith added.
For Tamil Nadu, this round is the start of a series of away games that will determine how far they go in the campaign. After Delhi, they face Mumbai in the first week of January before moving to Pune to play Maharashtra. Their last two matches are at home against Assam and Saurashtra.
And all said and done, there are a few positives for Tamil Nadu so far. For a side that has generally struggled to get 20 wickets, it has done so in successive matches, and if the batsmen tie up there is every chance they can turn the tide.
“We also have to look at the positives, and as I said before, we are a team in transition. We must be guarded. They say Delhi is not doing well and they don’t have their key players and it’s the right time to play against them, but we have to focus on ourselves.
“After the first game they said good things about our run rate and how we went about our approach and after one defeat that was questioned. So for us it is important to support our process and play,” Indajith added.
Ranji Trophy, 3rd Round, December 27-30
– Delhi vs Tamil Nadu, Delhi (9.30am)
– Baroda vs Uttar Pradesh, Vadodara (9.30am)
– Odisha vs Haryana, Cuttack (9 hours)
Live on Hot Star