After playing 266 Ranji Trophy matches, spanning five decades, Vidarbha finally have a crack at the title. Standing in their way is a resolute Delhi side, which has buried the ghosts of the last two seasons and is gunning to become eight-time champions.
Vidarbha have faced Delhi only five times in all, and have managed just one victory. In December 2013, after capsizing to 88 all out and suffering an innings defeat, Faiz Fazal, who was part of the team then and captain now, said: “Bacchon jaise haar ke aa gaye the wahan (we lost that match like children).” Vidarbha have pressed on to make successive quarter-final appearances in 2014-15 and 2015-16, but it is this season that has marked their growth from boys to men.
Their template has been simple: bury the opposition under a mountain of runs and thrive on scoreboard pressure. In the semi-final against Karnataka, however, they conceded a 116-run first-innings lead, and were forced to dig deep into their reserves to sneak into the final. Many hands have contributed to Vidarbha’s success: captain Fazal and Sanjay Ramaswamy have provided the ballast at the top, Ganesh Satish in the middle, and Rajneesh Gurbani has been tireless with the ball.
Delhi, like Vidarbha, are unbeaten in the tournament. This after Pradeep Sangwan was sidelined with injury and captain Ishant Sharma sometimes out on India duty. Realising the need to step up, Navdeep Saini and Vikas Mishra have performed the twin functions of bagging wickets as well as offering control. On the batting front, Gautam Gambhir has been quite fluent, but finding the other opener had been a problem for Delhi until Kunal Chandela hit four successive fifty-plus scores, including a maiden hundred against Bengal in the semi-final.
Delhi WWDWD (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Rishabh Pant‘s year began with a stint in India’s T20 squad, but since then he has floated in and out of the national team. His first-class form has not been encouraging either: 262 runs in seven innings at 37.42. His strike-rate of 86.75, however, has been in sync with his reputation and he will relish the short boundaries in Indore, but can he bat on for long periods again?
Rajneesh Gurbani has taken four five-wicket hauls in his last three matches and his dismissal of Karun Nair in the semi-final was particularly delightful. The 24-year old quick plied the Karnataka batsman with some inswingers before moving one away to draw the outside edge. That he can also cause the ball to skid off the pitch from a high-arm action adds to his threat.
Seamer Vikas Tokas sustained a hamstring niggle in the semi-final last week and has not completely recovered. Delhi will take a call on his fitness on Friday morning. Akash Sudan, who has played just one first-class game so far, is likely to make the cut if Tokas is unavailable.
Delhi (probable) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Kunal Chandela, 3 Dhruv Shorey, 4 Nitish Rana, 5 Himmat Singh, 6 Rishabh Pant (capt &wk), 7 Manan Sharma, 8 Vikas Tokas/Akash Sudan, 9 Navdeep Saini, 10 Vikas Mishra, 11 Kulwant Khejroliya
Umesh Yadav has joined India’s Test squad for the South Africa tour, and 19-year-old Aditya Thakare, who is a reserve player for the Under-19 World Cup, might make his first-class debut in the final.
Vidarbha (probable) 1 Faiz Fazal (capt), 2 Sanjay Ramaswamy, 3 Wasim Jaffer, 4 Ganesh Satish, 5 Apoorv Wankhade 6 Aditya Sarwate, 7 Akshay Wadkar (wk), 8 Akshay Wakhare, 9 Rajneesh Gurbani, 10 Siddhesh Neral, 11 Aditya Thakare
Pitch and conditions
Considering a 9am start, the new ball will probably deck around quite a bit, but both captains felt that the pitch will be better to bat as the game wears on. The weather is expected to be fine for the duration of the match.
Stats and trivia
Faiz Fazal needs 157 runs to become the second batsman, after Karnataka’s Mayank Agarwal, to bring up 1000 runs this season. He and Sanjay Ramaswamy are responsible for eight of Vidarbha’s 12 centuries and have been the most prolific opening combination in 2017-18.
There are three fast bowlers among the top-10 wicket-takers this season. Two of them could be in action in the final: Rajneesh Gurbani (31 wickets) and Navdeep Saini (29 wickets)
“He (Pant) hasn’t had a [great season] except for a 99 that he got in one of the games, he hasn’t got many big big runs. People have assessed him that’s what I would say. Last season he was a newcomer, nobody knew about him. He is a natural player and I haven’t asked him to curb his shots. I am hoping he will come good.”
Delhi coach KP Bhaskar on the captain’s form ahead of the final
“This is the final, obviously it will be live on TV, the guys are not used to being on the screen but we don’t care because it’s about the game between the bat and ball.”
Vidarbha captain Faiz Fazal wants to keep the focus of the team on the basics irrespective of the occasion