Sometimes, the recent past proves a good indicator of what to expect in the near future. Unlike the distant past, when Delhi could project a mix of confidence and complacency and still come up stronger against teams like Madhya Pradesh, the script has changed a great deal.
When these sides clash in the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals at the Dr. Gokaraju Laila Gangaraju ACA Cricket Complex, Mulapadu, near here, the next five days could well see a determined Delhi dealing with an upbeat MP. After all, MP topped its group ahead of Mumbai and Tamil Nadu. As the result, the team carries loads of confidence and not the tag of the underdog.
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Interestingly, the last time Delhi and MP lost in the knockout stage, their conqueror was Mumbai. MP lost the semifinals in February 2016 and Delhi went out in the quarterfinals in February 2015.
This clash also presents the youngest and oldest captains in the championship. In fact, MP's Devendra Bundela, 40, was already a regular Ranji Trophy player when Delhi’s Rishabh Pant, 20, was born.
Under the vastly-experienced Bundela, MP has done quite well in the past few seasons. “This season, we wanted to top the group and we did. That was a good confidence booster ahead of the quarterfinals,” said the man whose Ranji Trophy career spans 145 matches — most by any player — across 23 seasons.
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“Our bowlers, particularly leg-spinner Mihir Hirwani (25 wickets), medium pacer Ishwar Pandey (20 wickets) and left-arm spinner Ankit Sharma (17 wickets) have done really well. In fact, Ankit has also contributed with the bat (scoring 345 runs),” pointed out Bundela.
In fact, five MP batsmen scored centuries, with Harpreet topping the run-aggregate with 444, followed by opener Rajat Patidar (418).
Delhi, without Ishant Sharma, lacks the look of intimidation in its attack. But overall, the former champion has played as a unit to meet the challenges.
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As Head coach K. P. Bhaskar said, “The match presents an opportunity for some exciting prospects to showcase the stuff they are made of. A knockout game, with the selectors keeping an eye, brings with it certain pressure. Being a five-day game, no team can afford to be complacent. Once you get on top, you can’t allow the opposition to come back into the match. So it will be a test of patience and perseverance for the youngsters.”
This will be Pant’s first knockout match in the championship. He is keen to match the form shown by Nitish Rana (466 runs) and Gautam Gambhir (404). Noteworthy is the lower order contribution from left-arm spinner Manan Sharma (268 runs) to go with his 18 wickets. Among the bowlers, Vikas Mishra (24 wickets) and Navdeep Saini (19) did the trick.