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Know about Navdeep Saini, an outsider who took Delhi into Ranji Trophy final after 10 years
Delhi's right-arm medium pacer Navdeep Saini will probably play the biggest match of his career so far on December 29, as Delhi take on Vidarbha in the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy final.

Delhi has been having a dream run in this Ranji season, undeniably the best since 2007-08. And the reason, well, the bowling figures of Delhi bowlers. Any cricketing expert will tell you that in the longer format of the game, matches are won only & only by the bowlers. If a team's bowlers won't take 20 wickets, then that team won't win, no matter how strong the batting lineup.

Delhi's pace spearhead Navdeep Saini is being looked at as a major factor behind Delhi reaching the Ranji final after a decade's gap. Saini has been bowling his heart out in the last two-and-a-half-months scalping 29 wickets in 7 matches. His wickets tally is just second to left-arm spinner Vikas Mishra's 32.

On Tuesday, Saini who's the grandson of Karam Singh, who was a driver in Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's Azad Hind Fauj, finished with bowling figures of 4/35 against Bengal at Pune, as Delhi stormed into the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy final. He along with Kulwant Khejroliya ran through Bengal's middle order, bowling them out for 86. He intimidated Bengal batsmen with raw pace, bowling deliveries in excess of 140kph with total accuracy. However, his best delivery, which Saini termed as "a dream wicket" was through which he got rid of Bengal skipper Manoj Tiwary.

However, things weren't rosy for this young player from Haryana four years ago when he had began his career after being selected for Delhi. Saini made his first-class debut at the age of 21 on December 14, 2013 under not so pleasant circumstances at the Roshanara Club Ground during the 2013-14 Ranji season. A controversy erupted even before Saini had bowled his first ball as the DDCA refused to select him in the playing XI.

Recalling those anxious moments in an interview with TOI Sports, Saini said, "First of all, I was nervous at being on the cusp of a Ranji debut, but then as the tension grew I became afraid. I was a mental wreck. I was a total outsider. A novice. I had come from playing tennis-ball cricket and then some leather-ball cricket, but this was Delhi, and Ranji Trophy cricket. It was huge, and I was feeling the pressure. It could have been a lot worse, but thankfully I had Gautam bhai (Gautam Gambhir) and Sehwag bhai (Virender Sehwag) to guide me and ease me onto the field. Another bowler could perhaps have crumbled from such intense scrutiny. I will never forget the day, and how those two seniors made me feel welcome."

During the 2013-14 Ranji season, it was Gautam Gambhir who had vouched for Saini, who was not a Delhi resident but hailed from Karnal in Haryana. Gambhir who was the erstwhile captain of Delhi was impressed after seeing Saini bowl in the nets. Saini is the discovery of former Delhi seamer Sumit Narwal who spotted this prodigy in a local tennis-ball cricket tournament. It was Narwal who asked Gambhir to check the boy out.

However, despite Gambhir's showing keenness in including Saini into Delhi's playing XI, the DDCA'S Sports Working Committee issued a statement of disapproval which read: "A player who does not belong to Delhi, does not even play league cricket from any club of DDCA, has been included in the first XI against Vidarbha."

The background of this entire dispute over inclusion of Saini in the team was bad blood between selection committee head Chetan Chauhan and Gautam Gambhir. Gambhir had allegedly walked out of a selection meeting with Chauhan over the decision to drop wicketkeeper Punit Bisht in place of Rahul Yadav before Delhi's previous match in Odisha.

Controversy over Saini's selection in the team aggravated even further after Bishan Singh Bedi objected to it by writing to the DDCA president Arun Jaitley questioning how a player from outside the Delhi/NCR was eligible to play.

Nothwithstanding the controversy surrounding his selection, Saini made an impressive debut. Bowling at good pace with decent bounce, he took two wickets. He further took three wickets in the next round against Punjab, but that was the end of the season for him. Season after season Saini kept improving as a bowler. And now in this Ranji season, he has so far played in seven of Delhi's eight matches.

"I owe this life and success to Gautam Gambhir. I was a nobody and Gautam bhaiya did everything for me," Saini was quoted by PTI as saying.

Saini had been selected as a net bowler and was supposed to travel with the Indian cricket team to South Africa later this month but Ankit Rajput was sent in his place. The Delhi seamer revealed the reason for the same.

"I was happy that I would go to South Africa but I called up Gautam bahiya. He said Delhi needs you now for the semi-final and if you do well, you will be automatically in the Indian dressing room. I didn't think twice," Saini said.

By finishing with career-best figures of 7/79 against Bengal on Tuesday in the Ranji Trophy semi-final, Saini has answered his critics well who had questioned his inclusion in Delhi squad. An impressive show from him in the Ranji final might even open the doors of the Indian dressing room for him, who knows!

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