Shib Shankar Paul, 32, danced Gangnam style on the Eden Gardens pitch. His pace partner, Bengal’s Ashok Dinda, ran at full tilt while thumping his chest around the ground. In a few seconds, dancing Paul and the jubiliant Bengal players joined Dinda in his lap of honour. The fans celebrated on the terraces. It was a rare moment in Bengal’s recent Ranji history. For the first time since 2006-07, they had made the semifinals of India’s premier cricket tournament. And that was made possible when they beat a side they had refused to shrug off easily all season long — Murali Kartik’s group-topping Railways.
The equation before the final day of cricket began on Sunday was a simple one. Railways needed 154 runs to put one past the hosts to make it to the last-four. Bengal needed seven wickets to stop them. They did, just 48 runs short of the target of 271 runs. But all this did not occur without its fair share of drama.
First, rain delayed the start of play for about an hour and a half. With the conditions overcast, Bengal’s seamers looked keen to cash in. But Railways’ overnight pair of Arindam Ghosh and Nitin Bhille played out the first half hour and took the score from 117 to 135. At this point, the tension in the Bengal camp became rather visible. And it showed in the celebrations as well when Dinda trapped Bhille soon after.
But Ghosh looked unperturbed at the other end, especially with the knowledge that Railways’ most prolific batsman of the season, Mahesh Rawat, had just walked in. Rawat struggled initially against Dinda and survived a very confident caught behind shout. But he slowly started to get into the groove after hitting a couple of fours.
Rawat and Ghosh had shared a 218-run partnership in the first innings and Bengal were keen to end their second innings stance quickly. Captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla brought himself on and accounted for Rawat. The batsman was a tad unlucky as he was bowled off an inside edge that thudded on to his pads and rebounded on to the stumps. Bengal, however, didn’t care how they came. As long as they did.
The burly Paul, at the other end, was bowling beautifully and dismissed Ghosh with a gem of an outswinger that pitched on off-stump and moved late to take the outside edge to the wicketkeeper. He had just notched his second fifty of the match and was looking good for a lot more. But once he went, Railways perhaps knew that it was game over.
Railways’ lower middle-order simply didn’t have the experience or skill to grind it out under pressure. Some of the shots played were atrocious and the visitors were all out for 222 despite the fact that Bengal dropped four catches within ten overs after lunch.
Saha was adjudged the Man of the Match for scoring 87 and 81 in the two innings. He also took five catches in the match and gave a top-class display of wicketkeeping. The turnaround was now complete for Bengal, who were once placed fifth in their group after six rounds.
But first they beat Uttar Pradesh and then got the better of Tamil Nadu in their lair to enter the knockout rounds. And now they’re just a win away from reaching the Trophy final – creditable for a side that missed Mohammed Shami and Manoj Tiwary throughout the season for different reasons.
Saha, too, was not available for a period when he toured South Africa with India’s Test squad. But in their absence, two senior players, Shukla and Dinda, led from the front, and youngsters like Sudip Chatterjee also a lent a supporting hand.
Shukla, however, put things in perspective when he said: “I don’t think reaching semifinals is an achievement. The journey ends after winning the Ranji Trophy.”
That, however, is for the future. The present is all about the underdogs (Railways had after all topped the group) exceeding all expectations. Little wonder that the Bengal players conducted a celebration not seen often in these parts in the recent past.
Brief scores: Bengal 317 & 267 all out beat Railways 314 & 222 all out in 83.3 overs (A Ghosh 50; LR Shukla 3/45, S Sarkar 2/22, SS Paul 2/47) by 48 runs
Bengal docked 50% of match fee, captain Shukla full
Kolkata: Bengal captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla was docked 100 percent of his match fees, while his team mates were fined 50 percent each for a “serious over-rate offence” during their Ranji Trophy quarterfinal against Railways. “Bengal were 11 overs short.
They were short against Saurashtra as well when the captain and the other players had also been fined. Repeating the offence in a tournament falls under serious category. If they commit the same mistake in the semifinal then the captain might be banned for the next game,” match referee Rajendra Jadeja said in a statement after the match on Sunday.
Actor in dressing room
Meanwhile, in a bizarre incident, a popular actor from the Bengali film industry sat with Shukla, Wriddhiman Saha and Ashok Dinda during the press conference. He had also been ushered into the dressing room. As per the ICC and BCCI’s anti-corruption code, outsiders/unauthorised persons are prohibited from entering the playing area and dressing rooms at all times during the match. An ACSU official, however, was quoted as saying by the PTI that he had taken note of the incident. —ENS