The Ranji Diaries: Delhi, the Consistent Underperformers
The problem is either the big players from the Delhi team are missing from action or they fire blanks!
If the presence of top players was enough to produce results, Delhi would be in the running to win the Ranji Trophy each year. On paper, it's a powerful unit packed with heavy artillery but the problem is either the big guys are missing from action or they fire blanks!
The collection of cricket talent at the Kotla is very impressive. At the top of the batting order there is Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and Gautam Gambhir, supported by Unmukt Chand and IPL star Nitish Rana.
Not to forget Rishabh Pant, former India Under-19 captain whose rise is no less spectacular than that of a rocket launched into space. Only 20, Rishabh is the youngest player ever to represent India in a T20 International.
Pant has captained Delhi and has been nominated captain of India ‘A’. Last season he scored a triple hundred and smashed the fastest-ever century (48 balls) in Ranji. He also has a multi-crore IPL contract.
Delhi's bowling is led by veterans Ashish Nehra (in the shorter format, when not injured) and Ishant Sharma (when fit and available) supported by Navdeep Saini and Vikas Tokas. Spin is iffy, in inexperienced hands of Manan Sharma.
One of the oldest teams in Ranji, Delhi enjoys a special position in Indian cricket. A 'permanent' Test centre, Delhi has staged matches since 1948. But despite its rich tradition and abundant talent, Delhi's Ranji record is modest. They have won Ranji 7 times (last in 2007) and finished second 7 times. Considering the talent at its disposal, Delhi in Ranji is an underperforming team.
Players Hall of Fame
Over the years, a galaxy of cricketing superstars have represented Delhi. Among them Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Bishan Bedi, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli captained India.
Prominent among Delhi's Ranji greats:
Fast bowlers: Sitaram and Suresh Luthra.
Spin bowlers: Maninder Singh and Rakesh Shukla.
Batsmen: Prakash Bhandari, Akash Lal, Prem Bhatia, Hari Gidwani, Vinay Lamba, Mithun Manhas, Raman Lamba, Surinder Khanna, Bhaskar Pillai and Aakash Chopra.
All rounders: Madan Lal, Kirti Azad, Manoj Prabhakar, and Rajat Bhatia.
Ajay Sharma is arguably Delhi's biggest batting star, averaging a stunning 79, far ahead of others. A solid, run-hungry batsman, Ajay has scored a remarkable 31 Ranji hundreds.
Features of Delhi Cricket
- Delhi's strength is its vibrant club culture, with Sonnet the best known. Nurtured by Tarak Sinha, Sonnet is a mass producing cricket factory. Among its famous players are Ashish Nehra, Aakash Chopra and Rishabh Pant.
- Delhi cricket is known for being street-smart, effective if not elegant, competitive more than correct. Players are taught to find their way and get through tough situations.
- At one time, Delhi was seen as a ‘United Nations’ team with players coming here from different states. Bishan Bedi's hugely successful Ranji team consisted of many 'migrants' – Bedi, Madan Lal, Mohinder Amarnath and Chetan Chauhan.
- Delhi also experienced reverse migration, with players moving out to other states. Players such as Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Michael Dalvi, Ramesh Saxena, Rajinder Goel, Arun Lal, Ajay Jadeja and Virender Sehwag decided to play for other Ranji teams.
- Dysfunctional governance is a consistent thread running through Delhi cricket. If state cricket associations were rated on good governance and player-friendly operations, the DDCA would be close to the bottom, a rank tail-ender. DDCA's low-standards are advertised in the Willingdon pavilion itself, whose walls are plastered with photos of past greats, arranged haphazardly with names written in the wrong spelling!
- Controversies are as much part of Delhi as cricket itself. The cricket association is home to the 'proxy system' which allows a set of officials to keep control. The DDCA, suspended in the past by the BCCI for poor governance, is presently functioning under a High Court appointed administrator. There are many allegations of financial irregularities and fund misappropriation. Coaches, officials and support staff have not been paid their dues for the last few years.
- Player revolts are part of Delhi's DNA from the time of RP Mehra, former president of the BCCI. If aggrieved players sat on a morcha at Jantar Mantar or did dharna at the Feroz Shah Kotla they couldn’t be blamed. Delhi has a rich history of players (from Pataudi to Bedi to Sehwag to Gambhir) seeking azaadi from officials, but nowadays the players seem resigned to their fate, knowing this is par for the course.
Prospects This Season
Delhi approaches this season after a forgettable campaign last year when it failed to make the Ranji knock out and there was plenty of off field turbulence as well. Captain Gambhir and coach Bhaskar Pillai were engaged in an ugly dressing room squabble. Hopefully that negativity is a thing of the past.
But the going will be tough, as the lead up to Ranji has hardly been ideal. Delhi had no cricket this summer – the DDCA league was not held and the senior team did not play any pre-season tournament (KSCA, Buchi Babu, Moin ud Dowlah) to get match fit. Heading into the domestic season, Delhi is like a student about to sit for an exam without attending class.
It shouldn't be like this. Players are talented athletes pursuing their sporting dreams and also professionals struggling to earn a livelihood. To do this, they deserve a supportive set-up; what they get instead is a system literally playing with their careers. It is astonishing that this should happen when DDCA's representative is the current 'acting' BCCI President CK Khanna.
Delhi has a new, totally inexperienced captain Ishant Sharma and a new bowling coach, the fiesty Manoj Prabhakar. Given the unavailability of Virat/ Shikhar/ Rishabh, Delhi's fortunes will depend on its top order batting (Gambhir and Unmukt) scoring big to put runs in the board. There is enough talent in the Ishant-led pace attack but spin is particularly barren, despite the inclusion of Varun Sood and Vikas Mishra.
Coach Bhaskar will have to pull in all his past experience with Rajasthan/Tripura/BCCI academy to make this season count for Delhi.
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