Bengal wouldn’t have fond memories of their last trip to the national capital. Around the same time last month, soon after Diwali, they were to engage Gujarat at the Feroz Shah Kotla, a potentially engrossing match. But on the morning of the match the visibility was so bad and the air so polluted that the match was duly abandoned. So worse was the premise of the abandonment that you could see players practising with face masks.
Now the Manoj Tiwary-led side, which needs an outright win over Madhya Pradesh at the least in Palam, will look back to that match and feel they were robbed off some vital points in the hustle for a knock-out berth. They might nurse a legitimate grouse, more so as their pleas to reschedule the match fell on deaf ears.
They could feel they were let down by the elements, of which they had no control. And now they have no control over their fate in the Ranji Trophy.
With 18 points, they are now sixth on the table, level with Punjab. And they couldn’t have bumped into a tougher opposition than Madhya Pradesh, who have 19 points and in the frenetic rat race for knockouts. In fact, only Mumbai are assured of quarterfinal berth among the nine teams in Group A.
Skipper Manoj Tiwary, though, is hopeful of a favourable result that could propel Bengal, for which they need to keep all the negative thoughts of being deprived asunder. Tiwary avers they won’t be affected by all the fuss.
“It’s (the BCCI decision) not going to affect us, as we have not been discussing it in our team meetings. If we play good cricket, there is every possibility of getting six points. It’s a question of getting 20 wickets. That’s all we care about,” he said.
Despite Tiwary’s optimism, this Ranji has been a season of missed opportunities for Bengal. True, they have not performed poorly, but truth be told, this young team has failed to seize crucial moments at several crucial stages in the league phase. The two games that would hurt them most would be the ones against Tamil Nadu, where they conceded a first-innings lead, and then their harrowing 20-run loss to Baroda on a spicy, green top at Lahli.
The road ahead
Ahead of the final round of league games, only Mumbai, Jharkhand and Karnataka have sealed their berths for the play-offs. However, there are several teams vying for the remaining five spots. And behind the defending Ranji champions in Group A is Gujarat. Despite having gained a solitary point from the Bengal game, Gujarat have their noses in front with 25 points. They will now play their final league game against Tamil Nadu who are placed third in the group with 23 points. A first-innings lead against Tamil Nadu will see Gujarat through, while Tamil Nadu in turn requires an outright win or atleast a first-innings lead to progress. Bengal, too, have a chance theoretically.
An outright win against Madhya Pradesh at Palam will give them six points and hope Tamil Nadu falters against Gujarat. With Jharkhand and Karnataka having qualified, it’s a three-way race in Group B between Odisha, Maharashtra and Delhi. While Odisha have an edge against Maharashtra and Delhi, the fact that they will be playing their final league game against table-toppers Jharkhand – the game postponed in Dindugul owing to the unrest in Tamil Nadu following the demise of J. Jayalalithaa – dilutes their chances somewhat.
In Group C, Hyderabad have more or less sealed their spot, thanks to the 30 points that they have managed to accrue.