Delhi left reeling after Praveen assault
Ghaziabad's Nehru Stadium could well be one of the most vociferous and hospitable crucibles of Indian domestic cricket. On the field, its team, Uttar Pradesh, though, doesn't make a ruckus but gives no freebies either. Particularly not if they are Ranji Trophy points. At the end of the third day in their season opener against Delhi, UP are pushing for an outright victory over their much higher-rated and celebrated neighbours. Delhi were 197 for 4, just 29 runs ahead with Mithun Manhas on 63 and Sehwag on 21 when play ended due to fading light. One more wicket for UP, and it could be the deluge they are waiting for.
By tea, Delhi had lost Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli, both out in their forties, their team at 120-3. With Virender Sehwag not on the field for two sessions, Unmukt Chand had opened the innings with Gambhir but was caught behind off Bhuvneshwar Kumar off the first ball he faced.
Sehwag had injured the index finger of his right hand yesterday afternoon going for a catch at first slip. A medical check up at the hospital directly across the road had indicated neither fracture nor the requirement of stitches. There had been confidence in the Delhi camp that Sehwag will come out to bat 'if required' and at the tea break, Sehwag had been seen knocking outside the pavilion. He turned up 15 minutes into the final session with the dismissal of Punit Bisht and having batted for an hour, was not out on 21 with three boundaries.
Delhi's problems in the match though extend far beyond Sehwag's injured finger. Far stronger on paper than their opponents, Delhi have failed to match UP's energy on the field or with the bat. Or even display any of the 'bouncebackability' of a team which is chockfull of both batsmen and bowlers who in the respectful words of the spectators here, are called, "international players."
It was one of UP's own 'international' players who seized the match by its collar and dragged it his team's way. A rollicking unbeaten half-century from Praveen Kumar had the packed Sunday crowd on their feet, Praveen ensuring that the last two UP wickets put up 80 runs between them. UP had resumed the day at 292-6 and lost two wickets in less than ten overs. Their fightback began when their No. 10 walked in.
Praveen and overnight batsman Suresh Raina both scored 51 runs; Raina's was a cultured innings, but not his most authoritative as wickets fell around him. Praveen came perhaps two spots lower in the order than is fitting, but instantly got into the contest against the second new ball with Ishant Sharma and Ashish Nehra.
He faced an appeal for leg before off his first ball against Nehra but hit him over mid-off for a four off the second. Delhi broke out into celebrations on the third, over an alleged caught behind that the umpire didn't support. Praveen made swiping leg-side gestures behind his pads showing himself squared-up in front of stumps. In response he got hit on the fingers by Nehra and then had to deal with the barrage of short balls from Ishant at the other end.
Praveen's tussles with the Delhi bowling lit up the crowd that had grown to about 10,000 strong. Every time it was his turn to bat against one of the two big Delhi bowlers, the crowd began chanting his name, "Peekay aa gaya, Peekay aa gaya." (PK's come, PK's come.)
In the thick haze of an otherwise leaden Sunday morning, these were fireworks. The moment Ishant and Nehra finished their new-ball spells, Praveen chomped into the rest of the Delhi bowlers. Left arm spinner Vikas Mishra was hit for two gargantuan sixes: one that went over the sightscreen that with a bit more cloth could cover two storeys, the other over Ishant's head at widish long on. Praveen was not out on 51 (57b, 5x4, 2x6) and his company had even the No. 11 Imtiaz Ahmed surviving 49 minutes.
While Praveen's cover driving is not a thing of beauty like Raina's, on Sunday he became representative of the idea that four-day domestic cricket will always thrive if it contains at least a single element: entertainment, entertainment, entertainment.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo