If Porel doesn’t get you, Kumar, or Akash, must. For Bengal, the season has been about three pacers – Ishan Porel, Mukesh Kumar and Akash Deep. Nilkantha Das deserves an honourable mention for the services he rendered whenever he is played.
The Bengal pace trio has revelled in partnership bowling. No team has managed to score 250 against them in the Ranji Trophy this season. If Porel was the star in the first innings, Kumar blew away Karnataka at the second dig, taking five wickets during a nine-over spell on the fourth morning and helping his team secure a 174-run victory in the semifinal. Karnataka were 177 all out in the second innings. Pace and movement laid bare the technical shortcomings of their batsmen. The hosts, on the other hand, romped to their 14th Ranji Trophy final.
Karnataka resumed the day on 98/3. They batted just 17.3 overs on the day, losing seven wickets for 79 runs. Kumar returned with 6/61 from the innings; his career-best. As Bengal celebrated, Karnataka left Eden Gardens without attending the customary post-match press conference. Maybe, they were still smarting over their tame surrender. Karnataka, the reigning Vijay Hazare Trophy and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy champions, didn’t have the stomach to front up.
That winning feeling! 👏👏
— BCCI Domestic (@BCCIdomestic) March 3, 2020
Kumar’s finest hour
While Porel and Akash Deep have played the role of the aggressor from one end, Kumar does the holding job. Today, Kumar benefited from a role reversal. As Porel struggled with his rhythm a bit, Kumar was used from the High Court and he had the licence to bowl an attacking line. The result was devastating for Karnataka.
Manish Pandey, after his laborious 69-minute stay at the crease, sneaked an away-goer from Kumar behind the stumps. The seamer gave him a flying kiss send-off. Pandey never looked comfortable and the Bengal camp wasn’t surprised a bit. “We were hardly concerned about Pandey. We knew, with the red-ball moving, it was just a matter of time. We were actually concerned over (Devdutt) Padikkal. He was playing well,” Bengal spin-bowling consultant Utpal Chatterjee said after the match.
Padikkal’s resistance eventually ended after a 129-ball vigil, when Kumar made him fish at one, bowling from around the wicket. The left-hander was basically done in by the angle, but he was one player in the Karnataka team who showed grit, looked technically equipped and offered a straight bat.
Before Padikkal’s scalp, Kumar had KV Siddharth and S Sharath in successive deliveries. Siddharth played down the wrong line to a ball that came in a little and took the outside edge to first slip. Sharath was out lbw. K Gowtham and Abhimanyu Mithun tried to hit themselves out of trouble but celebrations had already started in the stands. Even on a truncated day, over 5,000 fans turned up at Eden, a lot of them were school kids. The Bengal team acknowledged their support, doing a lap of honour after the match. Kumar left the field on Akash’s shoulders.
One step closer to Glory! #TeamBengal outplayed #Karnataka across all departments to win the semi final of the #RanjiTrophy at their home ground, #EdenGardens.#CAB#BENvKAR#SupportTeamBengal pic.twitter.com/UyzheFqE9Q
— CABCricket (@CabCricket) March 3, 2020
“Last night I told the captain to give me the High Court end and the beauty of our bowling group is that we complement each other. I was given the licence to attack. The captain deserves the credit,” Kumar was full of praise for Abhimanyu Easwaran. He credited head coach Arun Lal for making the whole team fitter, thanks to a gruelling pre-season. Man of the Match Anustup Majumdar – at the end, his 149 not out proved to be the difference between the two sides – was reverential towards Lal. “It’s difficult to describe his contribution in words. He has given us belief to dream about winning the Ranji Trophy. And he has made us run.”
As for Lal, he was convinced of the abilities of his pacers since the start of the season. “I will not trade them for any other bowler in the country. This is a young bowling unit that has improved with every game. They have learnt the art of partnership bowling. Team spirit is also a major reason why we have been playing well,” he said today.
Together Porel, Kumar and Akash have accounted for 82 opposition scalps so far in this Ranji Trophy. The Bengal team management backs them to succeed in any conditions and considers them undroppable. The Bengal squad for the final doesn’t have Mohammed Shami and the team management is hardly bothered. The vibe in the camp was that if Shami were to come, Bengal would play with final with four pacers.
— Kolkata Police (@KolkataPolice) March 3, 2020
The Cricket Association Bengal (CAB) secretary Snehasish Ganguly, a former middle-order batsman and Sourav’s elder brother, agreed. “These guys are undroppable. Also, I believe this is the best pace attack to play for Bengal. In 1993-94, when we played the final against Bombay, we had Chetan Sharma, Prashant Vaidya and Sagarmoy Sensharma. But I think the current pace trio will edge them,” he said.
Chatterjee, who was also part of that squad, concurred. “These guys are fitter and can bowl longer spells.” Today, Kumar bowled unchanged for nine overs.
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) March 3, 2020
As for Karnataka, their batting proved to be a letdown. Even after they were bowled out for 122 in their first innings, fans expected a fightback. Karnataka had the batting wherewithal to chase down 352 on a surface eased out considerably on the third and fourth day. But KL Rahul and company failed to raise their game. They succumbed to the relentlessness of the Bengal pace attack. And the pacers were so effective that left-arm spinner Shahbaz Ahmed, with 30 wickets in his kitty this term, bowled just one over in the match.
Bengal are in the final for the first time since 2006-07 and chief minister Mamata Banerjee has urged the side to win the title this time. “Congratulations to the #Bengal team for reaching the #RanjiTrophy final, for the first time since 2006-07. Hope you bring home the trophy this time #CricketAssociationofBengal,” she tweeted after the semifinal victory.
— Wriddhiman Saha (@Wriddhipops) March 3, 2020
Meanwhile, Wriddhiman Saha has been included in the 16-member Bengal squad for the final. Saha was left out of the playing XI in the Tests in New Zealand. For Bengal, he will play as the wicketkeeper, while Shreevats Goswami is there as a specialist batsman. Bengal will play against the winners of the other semifinal, being played between Gujarat and Saurashtra. If Saurashtra are through, Cheteshwar Pujara is expected to join the squad for the final.
Brief scores: Bengal 312 and 161 beat Karnataka 122 and 177 (Devdutt Padikkal 62; Mukesh Kumar 6/61) by 174 runs
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