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November 27, 2012
Delhi are now at the halfway stage of their Ranji Trophy campaign and are looking for outright victories in two of their four remaining games. Central to their chances of progressing to the quarters is the fitness of their most experienced and skillful bowler, left-arm swing man Ashish Nehra. An injury to Nehra's hamstring meant he bowled only six overs in Delhi's previous Ranji game against Baroda and then missed the fourth-round match against Tamil Nadu, both matches held at the Kotla.
It is not yet certain if Nehra will travel with Delhi to Lahli for their next Ranji fixture against Haryana on a pitch that is expected to produce seam movement. Conditions in Lahli, outside Rohtak, are expected to suit Delhi's strong pack of quick bowlers in Nehra, Parvinder Awana, Pawan Suyal and Sumit Narwal; captain Shikhar Dhawan said Nehra would definitely play if he was declared fit.
At the start of the season, it was believed that Nehra, who has been dogged by injury all his career whether for India or Delhi, would most probably play four of Delhi's eight Ranji matches. Delhi coach Vijay Dahiya has no issue with the idea, nor does he take criticism of his most experienced and effective bowler lightly.
"Why is it that when our bowlers get tired and take a break, it is said they are picking and choosing? Why is no one else criticised?" Dahiya said. He went on to name bowlers, either more celebrated or younger than Nehra, who had not been seen in action for a while in the Ranji Trophy. "How many games has Ajit Agarkar played this season when he is supposed to lead Mumbai? Praveen Kumar has not played in any match after the game in Ghaziabad. Where is Abhimanyu Mithun? Or Varun Aaron or RP Singh? Why is Ashish's case always picked on?"
Dahiya said Nehra was improving and said that he would play only when the team was sure that there was no chance of him picking up another injury. It would, he said, be "tempting" to take Nehra to Lahli, if only to put the cat among Haryana's Ranji pigeons. Group B is tight at the top but Haryana are at the bottom of the points table, having lost three of three matches - all, ironically, at home.
"To have a guy like Ashish in our team it will put Haryana on the spot; [it will make them wonder] whether to play safe or to go for the outright win. They've got tough matches ahead," Dahiya said, adding that he will do a recce of the Lahli conditions by speaking to the Baroda team that played there in the just-concluded round.
After Haryana, Delhi travel again, to play Karnataka who were handed a staggering defeat by Odisha on Tuesday. Karnataka, with five points from four matches, are now seventh out of nine teams in Group B. "Karnataka are also under pressure," Dahiya said. "They too may want to play us on a pitch where you have results, so it gives us a good chance."
If Delhi were to get two outright wins from their four games, it could be enough for them to finish in the top three and qualify for the quarter-finals. Group B, Dahiya said, was still open: "The desperation will come in the last two rounds. Teams will then know where they stand and what they need to do. It is going to be crazy."
The first-innings points against Tamil Nadu means that Delhi can go into the crazy phase of their Ranji season feeling upbeat. "We think we've covered the points we lost in UP here. Look at the reputation of the Tamil Nadu side, look where they come from. Four of our guys got 100s, I can't remember when we've scored back to back totals of 500, it has been very good for our morale. "