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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Bengal resist, as a slow-burning thriller awaits a heady climax

Just 72 runs more for the first-innings lead for Bengal. Only four wickets more for Saurashtra. The morning session on Day 5 will decide who will be the winners of the 2019/20 Ranji Trophy season.

Written by Devendra Pandey | Rajkot |
Updated: March 13, 2020 8:26:17 am
Anustup Majumdar and Arnab Nandi, who have put on an unbeaten 91-run stand, will resume batting for Bengal on Day 5. (Twitter/BCCIDomestic)

The tug of war at Rajkot for the Ranji Trophy continues to slow boil ever so fascinatingly. The arena simmered with gritty fightback from Bengal, Saurashtra stirred up three wickets in the afternoon, and the pressure cooked in the final session but Bengal not only held on, but didn’t lose any wickets. Just 72 runs more for the first-innings lead for Bengal. Only four wickets more for Saurashtra. Sudip Chatterjee and Wriddhiman Saha dug in first before Anustup Majumdar, who hit hundreds in quarters and semis, trenched in with Arnab Nandi.

Heart-warming stories abound the men still with a chance to seize the game. Majumdar, 35 years, had to switch to Railways Ranji team in 2014 to keep his job at Railways but didn’t get to play many matches for two years. He returned to play for Bengal but had to take a tough decision to quit his job last year as he was asked to return to Railways; he chose cricket and has now dragged Bengal towards a dreamy finale. Nandi only played this game because of his skill to bowl off-breaks, else would have been replaced by a specialist batsman.

Heart-aching stories, too. Jaydev Unadkat had a mindboggling 65 wickets in the tournament leading up to the game but has been unable to take one more in 30 overs. Saha was dropped off his bowling once and the limited DRS plausibly denied him the lbw wicket of India’s wicketkeeper another time.

READ | Unadkat’s sensational 7/56 propels Saurashtra into Ranji final

He has tried everything, explored all angles from over to round the stumps, from different points at the crease, and has even got it to reverse but no reward yet. He would hope to end on a high. Spare some thought to Harvik Desai, who dropped Majumdar on 10 at first slip off the spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja with Bengal still needing 176 runs for the lead.

Unadkat and his men kept poking and probing but were met with grim resistance on the fourth day. Unadkat could have plausibly had Saha, on 6, but the limited DRS led to a debatable call from third umpire – he overruled the on-field umpire’s lbw decision as he felt he heard two sounds. When Saha was on 46, Vishwarajsinh Jadeja couldn’t get down quickly at gully to pouch a sharp catch. Only near the half-way mark of the day, Bengal lost their first wicket of Chatterjee who fell for a valiant 81 after a 101-run stand with Saha, wearing down Saurashtra for nearly 50 overs.

READ | At 35, Bengal’s Anustup Majumdar gets second wind

Then two more fell in the same, second, session as Saha and Shahbaz Ahmed were dismissed to leave Bengal at 263 for 6. Chatterjee fell to bat-pad-catch at short-leg off Dharmendrasinh, and Saha’s attempted cut had the ball run off the inside edge and brush the stumps and it took a replay to confirm that he was bowled by Prerak Mankad. Chetan Sakariya got one to straighten around the off stump to clean up Ahmed.

When play resumed after tea Bengal were 264 for 6 with Majumdar on 17 and Nandi yet to score. This was the session where conditions have really helped the bowling in all the three previous days.

The ball has reversed, kept low more than anytime else in the day and Bengal didn’t score a run off the bat in the last 59 minutes on third day. But on this fourth evening, they scored 91 runs and haven’t lost a wicket as Majumdar and Nandi pressed on.

A few things went wrong for Saurashtra. Like their decision to have the wicketkeeper Avi Barot stand up to the stumps this session. The rationale was understandable: with the batsmen trying to stand outside the crease to tackle reverse swing and low bounce, it made sense for Barot to stand up. But they leaked 16 runs off byes, and Bengal even got five penalty runs as the ball once hit the fielding helmet parked on the ground. In a tight game, Saurashtra have leaked 37 extras.

Clarity of thought

Majumdar’s clarity of thought shone through. He didn’t try extending himself too much. Only when the seamers slipped in lines and lengths, did he score of them. He used his feet to spinners smartly but never rushed out too early.

When the left-arm spinner Dharmendrasinh bowled on the restricting line outside leg for a while, he and Nandi kept padding them away. Majumdar also used the sweep shot smartly, collecting couple of boundaries off Dharmendrasinh.

Five of his eight fours came off the left-arm spinner. It was a lot of team work, too. When Majumdar was new to the crease, Saha had pointed a spot to him from where the ball was likely to turn sharp.

Around 100 people had turned up on the fourth day and the final day would be played without the fans as per directives from ministry of health due to the Covid-19 threat. Catch it on the telly, though, as it promises to be a grueling fight to finish.

Brief Scores: Saurashtra 425 in 171.5 (Arpit Vasavda 106, Cheteshwar Pujara 66, Dharamendrasinh Jadeja 33; Akash Deep 4/98; Shahbaz Ahmed 3/103) lead Bengal 354/6 in 147 overs (Sudip Chatterjee 81, Wriddhiman Saha 64, Anustup Majumdar 58) by 71 runs.

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