Subodh Bhati and Kulwant Khejroliya hit fours and sixes for fun and added 80 runs for the last wicket. Abhimanyu Easwaran’s catch at first slip, taken by Kunal Chandela, looked perfectly legal. But the batsman, yet to open his account, was declared not out by the third umpire on referral. And Ashok Dinda gave a Shakespearean response to a question after a five-for in the second innings and a nine-wicket match haul… What a day at Eden Gardens!
From Delhi’s point of view, Bhati’s slogfest turned out to be the most significant as it all but took the game away from Bengal. The visitors lost their ninth second innings wicket on 221. They had a 241-run lead then and the match was still wide open. Dinda’s bowling was the reason Bengal fought back, but we would come to that later.
As Khejroliya joined Bhati, the hosts strangely developed a love affair with short-pitched bowling. At Mukesh Kumar’s pace – in the mid 120s – the bouncers became long-hops and Bhati gleefully started to hit sixes. Bengal had nine fielders in the deep, but it hardly mattered. Bhati’s medium pace had rocked Bengal on Monday. On Tuesday, his batting provided the sucker punch. His 53-ball 62 included five fours and six sixes before he was run-out. Delhi were all out for 301 in their second innings and set a victory target of 322 for the hosts.
In March last year, Bhati had hammered a 57-ball 207 (including 21 sixes) in a local T20 game in Goa. He is a clean hitter of the cricket ball. But this was first-class cricket. After the third day’s play, the 28-year-old spoke about how he relished hitting the short ball. “Bengal’s plan was to bowl short, with the advantage of a big ground. The fielders were spread out. But I was confident about not getting out to the short ball, as it would either go over the stumps or would hit the body. So I just swung,” Bhati said.
Before his pyrotechnics, Delhi had an 85-run partnership for the fifth wicket, with Himmat Singh scoring 51 and Jonty Sidhu 42. The former got out to a poor shot, chasing a wide delivery from Kumar.
As Bengal resumed their second innings at the fag end of the day, Easwaran edged a Bhati outswinger to ‘keeper Anuj Rawat, who fluffed the chance. But Chandela at first slip pounced on it and appeared to have taken the catch cleanly. Front-on replays showed fingers underneath the ball. Third umpire Abhijit Deshmukh, though, wasn’t convinced. The soft signal was not out, which might have influenced the TV umpire’s judgment.
As for Bengal, they yet again failed to seize the opportunity. Dinda was an island of class in a pool of bowling mediocrity. He returned with 5/88 from 30 overs in the second innings – his 26th five-for in first-class cricket. Dinda’s match figures read: 52-12-150-9. After long spells he got a little leggy towards the end, when Bhati and Khejroliya went hammer and tongs.
Dinda has been the one-man show as far as Bengal’s bowling is concerned. At 34 years of age, he is still very fit. The veteran medium pacer credited his off-season training and team trainer Sanjeev for his longevity. But who after him? “The Bengal cricket is a temple. Devotees will come and go,” Dinda’s reply had William Shakespeare’s ‘All the world’s a stage…’ connotation.
He also spoke about how he had added motivation for this game. “Delhi had beaten us in the semifinal last season. So I was fired up from ball one. It became a grudge game for me and I badly want to win it.”
Bengal require another 304 runs on the final day, with 10 wickets remaining, to win outright. “The pitch is easy. I have bowled 52 overs on this deck, so I know its nature. We should chase down the target easily. With regard to Delhi’s last-wicket stand, it can happen in cricket. But we were always ready to chase 300,” Dinda said.
Brief scores: Delhi 240 & 301 in 96.4 overs (Subodh Bhati 62, Himmat Singh 51; Ashok Dinda 5/88) vs Bengal 220 & 18/0 in 3 overs
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