The most gripping phase of play came in the final session. Siddarth Kaul set a leg-trap, with two fielders in the deep and unleashed a bouncer barrage against Bengal captain Manoj Tiwary. The opponents still consider Tiwary as the most prized Bengal scalp in a Ranji Trophy fixture. On Wednesday, at the JU Salt Lake campus ground, he was building a strong partnership with Abhimanyu Easwaran in the second innings.
Kaul is part of the Indian team’s white-ball set-up and will soon join the squad for the upcoming three T20 internationals in New Zealand. Little wonder that the Punjab pacer was the only one to extract disconcerting bounce off a lifeless pitch. Why a flat track has been laid out for a must-win game is anybody’s guess, but we will come to that later.
Kaul didn’t take the new ball, when Bengal started their second innings 25 minutes before lunch on day three. He was given the older ball instead to impart some reverse swing.
Kaul’s first ball off the day accounted for Sudip Chatterjee. The delivery skidded off the surface to take the off stump out. But Tiwary presented a bigger challenge to the visitors. Coming back to Kaul’s post-tea spell, he started to put in more effort, overstepping a couple of times in the process. Both were short-pitched deliveries but a little ill-directed. Then, he made one rear off a length and the ball flew past Tiwary’s left ear. Advantage Kaul.
The Bengal skipper had gotten out cheaply in the both innings in the last match against Delhi. In this game also, he played a loose shot in the first innings to be dismissed on four.
Today, Tiwary was seemingly determined to prove a point. In his next over, when Kaul bounced again, Tiwary pulled the ball to the deep backward square-leg boundary, bisecting the fielders in the deep. The challenge was accepted and the score settled. It was excellent cricket all around. Tiwary finished the day on 90 not out, hitting nine fours and a six, and stitching an unbroken 180-run third wicket partnership with Easwaran. Three half-chances apart, he was in total command, coming at 38/2.
Easwaran, Mr Consistent
Easwaran, on the other hand, has become Mr Consistent for Bengal. His wonderful 183 not out in the second innings was the reason why his team rallied to earn six points against Delhi. Here also, the young opener led the fightback, reaching his hundred – second on the spin and three in four matches – in the final over of the day.
Easwaran is an improved cricketer since his return from the India A side. He now has a bigger range, including the reverse sweep, which he plays with aplomb. The diminutive opening batsman now scores at a faster pace as well. Today, he took just 157 deliveries to score a century. Bengal trail by 42 runs, going into the final day. And Punjab still have the upper hand, given that a couple of early wickets tomorrow will rekindle their hopes for an outright win, preferably with a bonus point. But Easwaran’s rise and the stomach for a fight will be the positive takeaways for the hosts from the season.
Earlier, Manpreet Gony and Kaul added 84 runs in 121 balls for the last wicket, as Bengal yet again let the opposition tail wag. After removing the overnight batsmen, Anmolpreet Singh and Vinay Choudhary, in the first two overs of the day, the Bengal bowlers let it slip, as Gony went hammer and tongs. A breezy 69 not out off 67 balls, including six fours and five sixes, saw him match his first-class career-best score. He had three sixes and a four in an Anustup Majumdar over. The reprieve on 21, when Ashok Dinda had overstepped, proved to be costly.
As far as the pitch is concerned, the Bengal team management’s demand for a turner wasn’t met and team mentor Arun Lal rued the lack of “home advantage”. “Evidently it’s not possible, so I’m told, because of the nature of the soil (here). We aren’t not getting the home advantage. Absolutely disappointed. A dozen matches have been decided in less than three days. They are done and dusted,” Lal said after the day’s play. He admitted that the hosts “made a mistake” of batting first, when the pitch had some moisture.
Punjab’s centurion, Singh, begged to differ. “It’s a result-wicket in a must-win game,” he said.
Bengal want change
The Bengal team management is going to voice its displeasure at next the BCCI annual domestic captain-coaches’ conclave, with regard to the changed Ranji Trophy format that allows top five teams from the Elite, Group A and B combined to qualify for the quarterfinals. The changed format was not what the Sourav Ganguly-chaired BCCI cricket committee had proposed last year.
“Certainly we will make a point. Within this framework if you want this, then the outright (wins) should be five points not six and there (should be) no system of bonus points,” Lal, expressing his unhappiness over the apparent BCCI effort to “standardise pitches”, employing neutral curators.
Brief scores: Bengal 187 and 218/2 in 58 overs (Abhimanyu Easwaran 100 batting, Manoj Tiwary 90 batting) vs 447 all out in 131.3 overs (Manpreet Gony 69 not out; Mukesh Kumar 5/114)