Axar threat looms for top-heavy Delhi
December 28, 2015
Start time 1430 local (9am GMT)
The presence of the big India stars brought some attention to the knockout week of Vijay Hazare Trophy, but it's the two best teams with those hungry to do well at this level that are left standing. Axar Patel has been Gujarat's talisman, but he is hardly the established star that would bring newspaper headlines to a tournament. Delhi, on the other hand, have relied mainly on team work in their bowling: Quicks Navdeep Saini and Suboth Bhati have gained massively from a dash of Ishant Sharma. Left-arm spinner Manan Sharma has been the perfect support act with an economy rate of 3.36, and Pawan Negi has had a bit of an X-factor about him.
The batting of these two sides have been the opposite. Gujarat have shared around the duties: Parthiv Patel hits at the top, Priyank Pachal, Rujul Bhatt and Chirag Gandhi have been the rocks, and Manpreet Juneja returned to form with a fifty in the semi-final. Delhi are more reliant on Unmukt Chand and Gautam Gambhir. Nitish Rana has shown signs of maturity, and Negi has again provided crucial lower-order quick runs.
This has been a good turnaround for both the sides after a disappointing first-class season. Delhi seemed to have put behind administrative controversies when they led the points table in the first half. They fell away in the second half whereas Gujarat failed to recover from a slow start. Only one team will cap it off, though.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
The knockout stage played on tired pitches has been a low-scoring affair. The pitches, especially at Chinnaswamy Stadium, the venue of the final, have been two-paced and generally slow. In the first day-night match of the event, the conditions will be in focus.
It might be easy to say Gujarat have been all Axar, but Rujul Bhatt will take exception. He has been a solid middle-order batsman, a good slip fielder and a steady offspinner. He is Gujarat's highest run-getter with 278 runs, and has given away runs at under 4.5 an over. When Axar was running through Tamil Nadu in the semi-final, Bhatt bowled 10 straight overs for just 34 runs.
Chand, meanwhile, is the only one with a realistic chance of unseating Mandeep Singh as the highest run-getter of the tournament. At 308 runs, he is 86 behind Mandeep's mark of 394. He nearly scored that many in the semi-final, shepherding what could have been a tricky chase on the Chinnaswamy pitch.
Neither of the teams might have pressing reasons to change their winning combinations.
Delhi (probable) 1 Rishabh Pant (wk), 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Unmukt Chand, 4 Gautam Gambhir (capt.), 5 Milind Kumar, 6 Nitish Rana, 7 Manan Sharma, 8 Pawan Negi, 9 Suboth Bhati, 10 Navdeep Saini, 11 Ishant Sharma.
Gujarat (probable) 1 Parthiv Patel (capt. & wk), 2 Priyank Panchal, 3 Bhargav Merai, 4 Rujul Bhatt, 5 Chirag Gandhi, 6 Axar Patel, 7 Manpreet Juneja, 8 Rohit Dahiya, 9 Rush Kalaria, 10 Hardik Patel, 11 Jasprit Bumrah.
Stats and trivia
- This is only the second time these two teams are facing each other in a one-day match. The last encounter was a romp for Delhi, in the quarter-final of 2012-13.
- Axar Patel is the joint highest wicket-taker in the tournament, with 19 of them. He is tied with Punjab's Siddarth Kaul.
- Delhi have won the Vijay Hazare Trophy once in 2013. Gujarat are looking for their first title.
"We can't take any opposition lightly. We were beaten by Assam in the days and that cost us the knockout berth. We lost against Vidarbha, a very close match. We could not chase 163. We have got enough instances for the fact that we can't take any opposition lightly. Of course it being a final, we have to raise the bar in all the three departments and make sure that we put in a 100%, do our best so that we win the finals as well."
Unmukt Chand knows even a single mistake can prove costly
"It is great the way preparation for Australia is going. Have batted and bowled well in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. But I am taking it step by step. Right now thinking of the final only. Will think of Australia after that."
Axar Patel is not thinking too far
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo