Left-handers Nitish Rana and Rishabh Pant kept Delhi on the right track during the curtailed opening day’s play against Maharashtra in this crucial Ranji Trophy Group ‘A’ encounter here on Friday.
After the unexpected morning rains delayed the start by 45 minutes and before bad light forced closure eight minutes following the re-scheduled tea-break, Delhi batted by choice, reaching 260 for four in 62 overs.
Coming together at 55 for three, Rana and Pant belted the Maharashtra attack at will and raised 168 runs while playing havoc with the rival attack in the second session. The post-lunch session, extended to 150 minutes, produced 170 runs for the loss of Pant’s wicket. The wicket-keeper batsman was out for 99, inclusive of six sixes and eight boundaries, and missed what could have been his fifth Ranji Trophy century. It may be recalled that against the same attack last season, Pant scored 308!
Rana went on to complete a well-deserved century. When the play was called off, Rana was on 110, dotted with three sixes and 12 hits to the fence. Keeping Rana’s company of a Milind Kumar on eight.
Once the action began, Maharashtra was soon on top with the wickets of Gautam Gambhir, Anuj Rawat – in for Unmukt Chand – and Dhruv Shorey falling within 16 overs. Gambhir fell leg-before to a ball that kept low before Rawat and Shorey were taken at short-fine leg.
But what followed was a savage counter-attack from the two left-handers. Rana was more assured from the start while Pant, lacking runs this season, was understandably more circumspect. Before long, Rana showed his aggressive intent and Pant followed suit. Maharasthra bowlers found themselves on the backfoot with the two batsmen not afraid to take the aerial route. The left-handers were equally adept in hooking and pulling the ball. The backfoot-play of the duo stood out as run-rate picked up.
Some flowing drives from Rana and effortless lofty shots from Pant lifted Delhi from 80 for three at lunch to past 200 in quick time. One of the factors that contributed to Delhi’s delight was some poor catching by the visiting team.
If Pant was dropped on 44, by wicket-keeper Rohit Motwani and on 77 by Kazi, Rana benefited from another spill by Motwani when on 68. Of Pant’s six sixes, four went over long-off, one sailed over long-on and the last one was struck straight. Pant, looking to turn the ball for a single needed to reach 100, ended up offering a simple catch to first slip and departed dejectedly.
Rana hooked one over the fine leg fence for the first six of the match and hoisted two over long-on. Equally impressive was his range of strokes that fetched him a dozen boundaries, most of them exquisitely timed.
Among the bowlers, off-spinner Chirag Khurana did get two wickets but went for 70 runs. Looking at the pitch – that is increasingly assisting spinners – and the likely loss of time owing to poor visibility over the next three days, Delhi looks far better placed to come out stronger.
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