Ranji Trophy Semis: Shami, Saha turn Bengal into favourite against Delhi

Delhi’s only hope of getting past Bengal comes from its batting. Should the frontline batsmen survive the opening spell from Shami and an otherwise inconsistent Ashok Dinda, it could well become an even contest. Since the Bengal spinners have not contributed much this season, Delhi can also hope to capitalise against the slower bowlers.

Mohammad Shami and Ashok Dinda at the MCA Stadium in Pune on Saturday.   -  Prashant Nakwe

Just over two years after their infamous fracas at the Ferozeshah Kotla, Gautam Gambhir and Manoj Tiwary will face-off when Delhi and Bengal clash in the Ranji Trophy semifinal begins here on Sunday.

Clearly there is no love lost between two former India players. On Saturday, Tiwary was gracious in acknowledging what Gambhir’s presence brings to the Delhi team, he did not mince words in declaring that his side would come hard at the opposition.

“I am sure some of the players from Delhi remember our previous encounter (when Bengal took the first innings lead of 108 runs in the drawn league match). This time, we want to do better. With Wriddhiman Saha and Mohammad Shami joining the team, it makes a huge difference to Bengal’s prospects. We are clearly the favourite.

“Delhi is a young team with some exciting frontline batsmen. They have a decent attack too. If you compare Delhi’s batting and Bengal’s bowling we are better. All the players are keen to prove ourselves in this big game,” said Tiwary after the team’s practice at the MCA ground here.

Without doubt, Tiwary has every reason to feel confident. The Bengal batsmen are in roaring form, the bowling stands reinforced with Shami coming in and the presence of Saha lends further depth to the batting.

This full-strength Bengal unit seems to have all the boxed ticked against a team that remains without the services of Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and an injured Ishant Sharma.

Under its 20-year-old skipper Rishabh Pant, who incidentally made his first-class debut when the teams met last in 2015, Delhi is struggling to play to its potential. Worse, Pant continues to toss away his wicket after getting his eyes in. Apart from Pant, almost every top-order batsmen lost their wickets to poor shot-selection in the last two matches against Hyderabad and Madhya Pradesh. After all, if Delhi finds itself in the semifinal for the first time in eight years, it should consider itself distinctly lucky.

The fielding remains Delhi’s biggest worry. The team has dropped close to 20 catches in the last two outings. Given the abysmal fielding-standard maintained by Delhi in the last two matches, the team can only give a better exhibition of fielding and catching over the next five days.

Delhi’s only hope of getting past Bengal comes from its batting. Should the frontline batsmen survive the opening spell from Shami and an otherwise inconsistent Ashok Dinda, it could well become an even contest. Since the Bengal spinners have not contributed much this season, Delhi can also hope to capitalise against the slower bowlers.

Overall, this is Bengal’s match to lose.

The teams:

Delhi: Rishabh Pant (captain), Kunal Chandela, Gautam Gambhir, Dhruv Shorey, Himmat Singh, Nitish Rana, Vikas Tokas, Kulwant Khejroliya, Navdeep Saini, Vikas Mishra, Aakash Sudan, Unmukt Chand, Manan Sharma, Shivam Sharma, Milind Kumar.

Bengal: Manoj Tiwary (captain), Sudip Chatterjee (vice- captain), Abhimanyu Easwaran, Wriddhiman Saha (wicket-keeper), Shreevats Goswami, Anustup Majumder, Abhishek Raman, Aamir Gani, Pradipta Pramanik, Ashok Dinda, Mohammed Shami, Mukesh Kumar, Kanishk Seth, B Amit and Writtick Chatterjee.

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