Ranji Trophy: Mehra exposes frailties of Sarfaraz and Prithvi, grabs maiden five-for

Test aspirants Prithvi Shaw and Sarfaraz Khan would not want to watch their dismissals against Divij Mehra’s military medium pace again. In both innings, Mehra nailed Shaw with the nip-backer, a familiar nemesis for the Mumbai batsman. So did his colleague Sarfaraz, whose off-stump cartwheeled in the impact of another Mehra’s incoming ball for a rare first-ball duck. The two pillars of Mumbai batting back in the hut, the record champions reeled to 168 for 9 at stumps, their lead a paltry 92, after Delhi, resuming from their overnight score of 315 for 7, added 54 runs to end their first innings on 369.

Shaw, who came to this match after scoring a triple century against Assam, lasted just 19 balls for 16, as he could not bring

the bat down in time to be trapped in front. The incoming ball had undid him in the past, by Trent Boult and Tim Southee in Wellington) and Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins in Adelaide. What is bewildering as he plots his Test comeback is that Mehra’s ball clocked just 121 kph, probably the quickest he bowled the entire day.

His plan was not to give width. “You can’t afford to give width to players like Prithvi Shaw and Sarfaraz Khan. They will hit you for fun. My plan was to bowl in-swingers, and not give them a chance to open their arms and it worked,” Mehra would later say.

After adding nine more runs to the total, Mehra dislodged Arman Jaffer, who nicked to Anuj Rawat behind the stumps after striking a couple of delightful boundaries. In came Sarfaraz, the serial century maker whose omission from the Australia series had sparked criticism, and who was fresh from a hundred in the first innings. But he, like Shaw, could not keep off the one that bend back into the stumps. Mehra troubled Sarfaraz’s brother too, the 17-year-old Musheer Khan, too. His tendency to play away from the body has been a reason for concern. With wicketkeeper Anuj Rawat standing up to the stumps, Mehra made one ball sneak through the gap between his bat and pad. Rather than pace, the ball nudged 116 kph, it was his technical glitch that undid.

Delhi soon slumped to 37 for 5 in the biting cold of Delhi, before Ajinkya Rahane put on a resistance with Shams Mulani. The pair stitched 59 runs before Hrithik Shokeen trapped Mulani in front for a 66-ball 30.

Rahane and Tanush Kotian rebuilt, but with the score at 141/6, the Mumbai skipper perished for 51 to Pranshu Vijayran. Rahane battled to his half-century but never looked uncomfortable. Vijayran beat his outside edge repeatedly before finding the outside edge, and Vaibhav Rawal took an excellent low catch at the second slip. Kotian held firm but Mumbai lost the wickets of Tushar Deshpande and Mohit Avasthi before bad light stopped play. With Avasthi’s wicket, Mehra bagged his maiden five-wicket haul and turned the game in Delhi’s favour.

Rollercoaster start

It has been a rollercoaster start to 2023 for Mehra. He earned his maiden Ranji Trophy call-up, then was released to play U-25. The day he reached Hyderabad to play the U-25 match, he was called up to play for the senior team against Andhra as seamer Kuldip Yadav got injured. It was his unbeaten 55-run 10th wicket partnership with Harshit Rana thathelped Delhi get their first three points (first innings lead) of the season. Now he has his maiden five-wicket haul.

Mehra couldn’t believe his luck. He said: “I took three flights in two days to make my debut against Andhra and now I have a fifer. At the start of the season, I never thought I would get a Ranji call-up this season,” he said.

The 20-year-old might not have been in the frame had Delhi’s first-choice seamers been fit. Five of them—Ishan Sharma, Simarjeet Singh, Pradeep Sangwan, Mayank Yadav and Kuldip Yadav—are nursing injuries. But it did not matter, as Mehra made his first mark in first-class cricket.

Brief scores: Mumbai 293 & 168 for 9 (Ajinkya Rahane 51 Tanish Kotian 48 batting; Divij Mehra 5/29, Pranshu Vijayran 2/40) lead Delhi 369 all out by 92 runs. 

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