IF YOU ask Madhya Pradesh fast bowler Chandrakant Sakure to pick his favourite opposition in first-class cricket, chances are high that his answer would be Bengal. For the keen observers of Indian domestic cricket, this answer may not come as a surprise. In fact, Sakure made his first-class debut against Bengal last season during a crucial quarter-final at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai.
Bending his back, the 25-year-old got optimum purchase from a pretty benign track on offer. His 6-wicket burst (three scalps in both the innings) helped Madhya Pradesh clinch a comprehensive 355-run win over Bengal, and in the process also helped his side progress to the semifinals of the Ranji Trophy for the 2015-16 season.
Sakure was not alone. On his dream debut, he did get ample help from his more seasoned seamer — Ishwar Pandey. Pandey’s four-wicket haul in the second innings set up the win for MP on that occasion.
Going into the final league game of the current Ranji season, and in a must-win situation, these two pacers seemed to have taken confidence from their exploits against Bengal at the Brabourne Stadium ten months ago.
On a pretty slow surface with plenty of grass cover at the Airforce Sports Complex at Palam, both Sakure and Pandey put Bengal’s batmen in strife on the morning session of the first day’s play. Both Sakhure and Pandey got ample seam movement early on and by the end of the 30th over, Manoj Tiwary’s side had already lost four wickets. Sturdily built and blessed with a fluid action, Sakure prospered as he managed to hit the right length and made the Bengal batsmen play on most counts. In between he did use the short ball ever so sparingly, more as a surprise weapon. At the end of the first two spells, his figures read : 12-4-25-2, having accounted for Prosenjit Das and Sudip Chatterjee.
Having made his first-class debut at 25, Sakure is a late bloomer. A native of Jabalpur, he had always dreamt of bowling fast. However, when he started out, he did have the pace, but what he lacked was direction and cricketing acumen. His U-23 days are riddled with tales of indiscipline and the propensity to leak runs.
He has managed to arrest much of that this season. Perhaps, the biggest attestation of his slow, but steady rise as a fast bowler came from Pandey himself. “He has learnt to bowl in the right areas. He lacked the discipline when he started out initially. He really bowled well on his slow surface today,” Pandey explains. As many as 36 scalps from eight Ranji games at an average of 25 only illustrated his potential. Along with Pandey and Puneet Dattey, the three have formed a good core group of fast bowlers for Devendra Bundela’s side this Ranji campaign. The trio have not been in the highest wicket-takers list this season. However, slowly, almost silently, they have gone about with their job wholeheartedly and in a non-fussy manner.
At Palam, both Sakure and Pandey bowled with purpose and heart. However, what they lacked was a bit of luck. More than Sakure it was Pandey for whom the rub of the green did not go his way. That’s because he had two definite chances, both of which came in his 12th over.
The first chance came off a well directed short delivery to Abhimanyu Eashwaran — who scooped it to short mid-wicket where a clumsy Ankit Sharma messed it up. Three deliveries later, Pandey bowled arguably the best ball of the day — a sharp delivery that pitched on middle stump and moved just enough to take what looked like a regulation edge of Sreevats Goswami. The entire MP contingent went up in unison. Sadly though, the umpire remained unmoved. In the space of four deliveries, Pandey could have had two breakthroughs. That was not to be.
Pandey was visibly distraught after Goswami’s appeal was turned out. But he was extremely diplomatic when asked about the same. “These things are part and parcel of the game. You cannot do much about it,” he would say later. When stumps were eventually drawn at the end of 60 overs on Day 1, Bengal had meandered to 4/185. Pandey would finish the day with figures of 15-4-38-1. With a bit more luck, it would have read 3/38 though. Later, when a senior journalist asked Sreevats Goswami whether he had indeed nicked Pandey’s delivery, the Bengal middle-order batsmen would say: “Yes, I did.” His almost nonchalant reply aptly summed up a tiring and luckless day at the office for Ishwar Pandey and company.
Brief Scores: Bengal 185 for 4 in 60 overs. (Abhimanyu Easwaran 68 batting, Shreevats Goswami 52 batting, Abhishek Raman 36) vs Madhya Pradesh.