Raipur ready to join the cricket carnival

Raipur: It’s easy to draw parallels between Ranchi and Raipur. Both cities became state capitals in November 2000, and both are trying to grow out of their “small town” image.

Cricket-wise, Ranchi has an advantage that it has its own recognised state cricket association, and made its debut as an international venue this year with an India-England ODI. Raipur, on the other hand, will try to put itself on the cricketing map when it hosts its first Pepsi Indian Premier League game between Delhi Daredevils and Pune Warriors India on Sunday.

The setting for this Daredevils ‘home’ game is the Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh International Cricket Stadium, a facility built by the state government in 2008, about 20 kilometres outside the old city of Raipur and very close to the new, planned capital city, Naya Raipur.

And despite the distance from the main city, public’s hunger for cricket is expected to come to the fore, as a full house is on the cards at the 65,000-capacity stadium.

The city is buzzing with cricket fever, with people travelling the great distance to the team hotel on Saturday just to catch a glimpse of the cricketers and click a few pictures.

Even the police and private guards on duty seem to be eager to do everything ‘right’. Lack of communication and awareness is the biggest problem, but such teething troubles are only to be expected at a venue that hasn’t yet hosted a first-class game, and whose state association, the Chhattisgarh State Cricket Sangh, isn’t even a full member of the BCCI.

The Daredevils have only a mathematical chance of qualification for the play-offs, having lost seven of their eight matches, and only a miraculous streak of eight wins in their remaining eight games will see them come in contention.

“We know we have to win eight out of eight, but if any team can, it is Delhi Daredevils. We need to take advantage of the fact that their (Pune’s) confidence is a bit down,” Daredevils spinner Shahbaz Nadeem said.

He was referring to the thorough annihilation Pune were subjected to by Chris Gayle in their previous game against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Gayle smote 17 sixes in his 66-ball 175 not out, guiding RCB to a T20 record 263 for five, and then took two wickets as Pune lost the game by a whopping 130 runs.

The bowlers’ confidence is at its lowest ebb, and the batting has anyway been misfiring, but for the good show by skipper Aaron Finch. They will need to pull up their socks in a big way if they are to stop Delhi catching up with their tally of four points.

The wicket for the game is likely to be more suitable to the pacers than the low-and-slow Ferozeshah Kotla, something that will play to the advantage of Delhi’s pace battery.

It is likely to reduce their season-long selection headache, with Morne Morkel likely to take the fourth foreign player’s spot. The better carry may also aid freestroking batsmen like Virender Sehwag and David Warner.

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