Ranji Trophy 2011-12, 3rd round November 22, 2011

Tricky Kotla and an outrageous injury

ESPNcricinfo looks at the highlights of the third round of the Ranji Trophy 2011-12

If it's the Kotla …
… the pitch has got to be upto something. After dishing out the low variety of bounce for the second Test against West Indies, the Kotla brought out the other version which batsmen dread even more - uneven bounce, for Delhi's game against Tamil Nadu. The surface had an unusual green tinge which was masking a web of gaping cracks. Mithun Manhas, the Delhi captain, soon found out just how much was happening when he got hit on the box by a Yo Mahesh delivery that nipped in. Some minutes of wincing, catching his breath and stretching did it for Manhas but Abhinav Mukund wasn't as lucky. Pradeep Sangwan isn't someone who you would fear facing but he got a delivery to misbehave enough to hit Mukund on the jaw. Mukund had to leave the field but came back later to find deliveries beating both batsman and keeper as they scooted close to the ground. He did earn Tamil Nadu a substantial lead before being dismissed on 99. By Sangwan.

The chase that wasn't
After they almost chased down an improbable 146 in 13 overs against Haryana in the previous round, you would have expected Tamil Nadu to go after the target of 218 off a maximum 49 overs against Delhi. It would have required more skill against a better attack on a tricky Kotla surface but with Mukund not available to bat, Tamil Nadu had reason to be warier this time. A watchful start, followed by the quick departure of Arun Karthik and M Vijay meant it was down to Dinesh Karthik. He hit ten boundaries in making 52 but his dismissal brought a tame end with Tamil Nadu requiring 89 off 14 overs in fading light. "We had decided not to go for the runs knowing we will get some 15-17 overs less due to bad light," Karthik told the Times of India. If only the Delhi fog hadn't delayed the start by a couple of hours in the morning.

What not to do on the eve of a game
Delhi and Kolkata Knight Riders allrounder Rajat Bhatia was playing with his pet dog a day before the start of the match against Tamil Nadu. Which wasn't dangerous by itself. There was some new glass being fitted into the house windows. Which also wasn't dangerous by itself. The combination of the two proved to be. While playing with the dog, Bhatia slipped and fell onto a sheet of glass, ending up with eight stitches in his batting, bowling and throwing hand, the right one. Bhatia managed to see a brighter side to the incident though. "Thankfully, I did not hurt my fingers or split the webbing between them," Bhatia told ESPNcricinfo. "Or I would have been out for far longer." He hopes to be back for Delhi's next game against Baroda which starts in a week.

A different league
Bat the opposition out of the game. Rajasthan won their maiden Ranji Trophy title last season with this strategy. This approach was backed up by the new-ball duo of Pankaj Singh and Deepak Chahar who were ran through sides in the Plate League and later restricted the might of the Mumbai and Tamil Nadu batting line-ups in the knockouts. The start of this season has been an entirely different experience. Karnataka beat them at their own strategy in their opening game, posting 623 after which Rajasthan crumbled. They returned to their big-scoring ways against Mumbai and Railways, posting totals in excess of 500 each time but still ended up conceding the lead as the bowling failed to click. With three points from three games, the defending champions have a lot to prove.

The record
It is said that a wicketkeeper who goes unnoticed is doing a fine job. But there was no missing Hyderabad keeper Ibrahim Khaleel's performance against Assam. Hyderabad roared back with a big innings win after having lost to Maharashtra by an innings in the previous round. There were two centuries, a five-for and two four-fors for Hyderabad but Khaleel grabbed all the attention with a first-class record 14 dismissals in the match. Seven in each innings, 11 catches, three stumpings. "Actually when the match ended we all thought that it was an Indian record," Khaleel told the Times of India. "But then we checked the internet and saw that it's a record in first-class cricket. Definitely, we had some disappointing outings but hope my performance and the big win changes things for us."

The comeback
A familiar figure ran in for Delhi against Tamil Nadu, sending back M Vijay and Arun Karthik off consecutive deliveries with movement and nip. The last time Ashish Nehra played first-class cricket was in November 2008. Injuries took over after that, and Nehra decided to play only the shorter formats to prolong his career. This time he was returning after breaking his fingers during the World Cup 2011 semi-final against Pakistan. Would he be able to bowl across three sessions in a day? Turned out that wasn't his biggest worry. "I know my body cannot handle two four-day games with a gap of only three days between them. It's not the bowling that is a problem, it's the 90 overs in the field that in the past, have caused strains and injuries," he told ESPNcricinfo. He got through the game in the end. Uninjured.

The results
Saurashtra's demolition of Punjab was the only outright result in the Elite League with the other six games being drawn. The Plate League, as always, provided more excitement, producing four results in six matches. There would have been a fifth result as well, but captain Yashpal Singh's unbeaten century helped Services avoid an innings defeat to Vidarbha.

The quote
"I did not feel under pressure at the start of the day, but I was thinking, 'will I be okay, will everything go well?' And so far it has."
Ashish Nehra sounds relieved after his body managed to survive a four-day match

Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo