<
>

Comback man Aravind shows his experience

S Aravind hasn't played for India after his debut against South Africa, but he bowled against Delhi like a man who deserved the India cap AFP

Twelve months ago, S Aravind's answer to what had changed in the last year or so would perhaps have dealt with him recovering from one of the several injuries - back stress fracture, hamstring, knee and a torn ligament in his leg - he has suffered during his stop-start career. Today, you're met with a smile that accompanies, "the India cap".

Aravind was called up to the national squad in 2011, as a replacement for Zaheer Khan during the home series against England, but had to wait till October, 2015, to make his India debut. It came against South Africa in a T20 international in Dharamsala. While he hasn't added to that debut cap, he is "a better bowler from that experience", as his attitude and planning on the field show.

A key member of the Karnataka seam attack that plotted many downfalls during the last three seasons, an injury-free body and a mindset that focuses on "being happy in the present" has helped him reap rewards. On Thursday, Aravind, playing his first first-class match since December last year and replacing the injured Vinay Kumar, bowled like a man who merited the India cap and sent Delhi packing for 90 - their lowest total against Karnataka - on a green Eden Gardens surface.

To watch him set up Gautam Gambhir, open-chested but compact and in form since the season-opening Duleep Trophy in August, was a treat. Pace isn't Aravind's forte, but it is his determination to not allow that to hamper his bowling that has made him a threat in first-class cricket. And he proved why he is highly regarded in the Karnataka camp, despite having missed a number of matches owing to team combination.

Cover is one of Gambhir's most profitable run-scoring areas. By leaving it open, Aravind was throwing an open challenge to the Delhi captain. Minute deviations after pitching in that "in between" zone that makes batsmen apprehensive to hit through the line forced Gambhir to leave five deliveries.

In Aravind's next over, Gambhir was subjected to a string of inswingers from wide of the crease. Aravind bowled around the sixth-stump line, which allowed Gambhir the luxury to leave. Aravind had bowled eleven dot deliveries across two overs. Abhimanyu Mithun, relentless in his attack from the other end, didn't make run scoring easy either.

Then, before his third over, Gambhir was perhaps slightly irked by a small cloth that distracted his line of sight above the bowler's arm. A small break in play resulted. Aravind signalled to Karun Nair, the captain who was fielding at mid-on, to move midwicket to fourth slip. With vacant spaces at square leg and midwicket, the pull shot was on the cards, or so it seemed.

Aravind attempted a short ball that stuck in the pitch. Gambhir, early with the pull, connected off the toe end as the catch lobbed to Nair at mid-on. If the plan was to open up the leg side and trick Gambhir into playing the pull shot - as it seemed to be - it had worked. The end result was a first spell that read 5-2-7-1.

Then, in his second spell, Aravind's decision to bowl to the right-handers from around the stumps and get the ball to straighten worked. This, after he had rapped the batsmen on the pads on a couple of occasions, only to be told that the ball had pitched outside leg. Milind Kumar nicked to the slips, while Varun Sood and Ishant Sharma's misjudgement of line brought about their downfall. The three wickets and five maidens in a six-over spell were as much a result of awareness and experience as they were about planning.

By the end of it all, Karnataka had opened up a 41-run lead, and with the surface likely to be at its best for batting on the second and third days, their batsmen could bat Delhi out of the contest. But, even if that happens, Aravind's contribution is likely to remain the biggest of them all.