Young Gujarat bowlers face up to Delhi's batting prowess
On a regular day, the news of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir playing in a smaller cricket centre would have drawn huge crowds. But with the country focused on the much-hyped Test at Eden Gardens, the Delhi and Gujarat teams started their routine practice sessions, ahead of their Group A tie at Surat's new-look Lalbhai Contractor Stadium, in the tranquility of a holiday-season morning. A new three-tier stand now flanks one-third of the ground from where the chatter of the players warming-up on the lush green turf could be heard.
Keen not to miss out on the action taking place at the other end of the country, Gambhir and Co briefly came back to their dressing room - the eager hosts, the Surat District Cricket Association, had obliged Gambhir's request to fit a television - before heading for the nets. The Gujarat team was already at the nets.
Gujarat won their opening Ranji Trophy match against Vidarbha by an innings and one run, a match that was set-up by young fast bowlers Rush Kalaria and Jasprit Bumrah and wrapped up by a hat-trick from spinner Rakesh Dhurv. Parthiv Patel expects the young attack to raise their game against one of the strongest batting line-ups in the country on a pitch that saw a Ravindra Jadeja triple-century last year. Apart from Sehwag and Gambhir, the Delhi team has been boosted by the presence of Unmukt Chand, who was not available for three weeks due to dengue fever.
"We are not worried about the opposition," Parthiv said. "We have been playing good cricket over the last couple of seasons, beating a couple of big teams on the way. Rakesh Dhurv has been consistently picking up wickets and Jasprit Bumrah is an exciting bowler who has done well in the Twenty20s. He also did well in the last match and we are looking forward to using him properly."
Bumrah, 19, picked up seven wickets on his first-class debut in Nagpur last week and was the centre of attention at the team nets before the press conference. He was noticeably quicker than the other bowlers and troubled the Gujarat batsmen with deliveries that kicked off from a length, inducing a few edges. Even Chand spent some time behind the Gujarat nets observing the fast bowler's run-up to the crease and his swift, but back-heavy, action.
Another bowler that Chand would know more about from his Under-19 days is left-arm seamer Kalaria. The 20-year-old bowler debuted for Gujarat last season, but collected his best innings figures of 5 for 32 in the opening match this season against Vidarbha.
Delhi's bowling is likely to be led by Ashish Nehra, who had said at the start of the season that he may not be able to play back-to-back matches owing to his fitness - he featured in only three matches for Delhi last season. But Delhi's new coach Sanjeev Sharma remained confident of the bowler's availability. "If he has come, he will play," Sharma said. "He hasn't come for dearness or travel allowance. He is a bowler and he is also a mentor, his presence makes difference to others in the field."
Sharma was also more forthright in his assessment of the pitch: "The pitch is very dry, but we expect it to have true bounce and reverse swing will come later." When reminded of the scores last year, Sharma said "it depended on the bowling attack as well".
During the nets, though, a small crowd of kids gathered to only witness a couple of batsmen: Sehwag and Gambhir, who played some meaty shots, but stayed hidden away in the nets on the far side. Sharma said that with the players of such quality, it wasn't important what their form was like. "Both look very hungry, and in Delhi also, they were turning up for extended batting sessions," he said.
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo