Abhimanyu Easwaran scored his maiden double hundred in first-class cricket and Manoj Tiwary got to his 26th century at this level. But Bengal bade adieu to the 2018-2019 Ranji season because collectively their batting failed to fire. Easwaran and Tiwary scored 1,477 runs and five hundreds between them this term. The only other player to reach three figures was opener Kaushik Ghosh, who scored 100 against Madhya Pradesh two months ago. Ghosh has since lost his place in the XI.
Coming into the final day of the match against Punjab, Easwaran and Tiwary were at the crease. The former resumed on overnight 100, while the Bengal captain was on overnight 90. The latter went on to complete his century before he under-edged a Vinay Choudhary delivery onto the stumps.
At 260/3, and the scores level, the hosts weren’t safe yet. Anustup Majumdar departed soon and Writtick Chatterjee looked iffy. He survived a very confident caught behind appeal off leg-spinner Mayank Markande on 12. The whole Punjab team stood in disbelief. Yuvraj Singh had a word with umpire Ulhas Gandhe. But Bengal had the rub of the green.
Then, Easwaran helped Bengal reach safety. His 201 not out off 373 balls, with 16 fours, earned praise from Punjab skipper Mandeep Singh. “He batted really well. We need to learn from him with regard to the conversion rate,” Singh said.
Easwaran finished the season with 861 runs from six games, including three centuries and as many half-centuries. He had 186, 57, 183 not out and 201 not out his last four matches, after returning from India A’s tour of New Zealand.
A declaration from Tiwary after Easwaran had reached his double hundred, spiced up the contest in the final hour on Thursday. Punjab were given a target of 173 in 16 overs for an outright win. The improbability of the equation notwithstanding, the visitors had to go for it to keep their quarterfinal hopes alive. They needed at least six points from this game to be in contention.
Anmolpreet Singh opened with Shubman Gill, but the real fireworks came from Manpreet Gony, promoted to No. 3 as a pinch-hitter. Confident after his 69 in the first innings, Gony just laid into the Bengal bowling. The hosts somewhat panicked. Simple catches went down. Gony had a life on 43. Punjab, meanwhile, had been going at 10 runs per over. Such was Gony’s impact that Pradipta Pramanik, a left-arm spinner, conceded two leg-side wides, as the umpire considered them way too negative.
But it was too steep a target to chase and Bengal just needed a couple of good overs to put the handbrake on. Ashok Dinda gave away only six runs in the 12th over and the pressure was back on Punjab. Gony tried to accelerate, but Pramanik breached his defence. Gony departed on 58 off only 28 balls, including six sixes. The visitors decided to bring down the shutters.
Later, Mandeep would express his surprise over Gony’s omission from the IPL. “Honestly, I’m surprised that a player like him (Gony) doesn’t get an IPL team. He has played such knocks in the Vijay Hazare Trophy as well. He is pretty consistent in batting also. His bowling now has had a few fitness issues, but whenever he bowls, he bowls well.”
Tiwary takes a dig
After the match, the Bengal skipper spoke about his frustration, aiming a thinly-veiled dig at the state association. “Our plan was to play this game on a spinning track, because Punjab had a very good pace attack. We didn’t get a spinning track, which put us on the back foot. We had to get six points to qualify. But if the team management’s wishes are not met with, then the whole plan goes awry,” Tiwary said.
Bengal didn’t prefer to play on a green pitch despite having Dinda as their No. 1 bowler. According to Tiwary, “Dinda couldn’t bowl from both ends, and a green-top against Kerala had backfired”. The skipper admitted that the batting group lacked confidence, because as a unit it hasn’t been performing well. Asked about the reason, Tiwary said: “I think you should ask these questions to other people (powers-that-be). I know I lead the Bengal Ranji team, but I’m not the captain of the ‘Vision 2020’ (a project taken by the CAB president Sourav Ganguly to groom the future stars). I’m not the captain of the CAB. I’m not the captain of the committee that decides who would come in as the specialist coach and the specialist expert. If I’m the captain (of the team) I should be involved in all such matters…”
Punjab ditto Bengal
Meanwhile, with the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals line-up now settled and Kerala are the only team from the Elite, Group B to reach the knockouts, Mandeep hoped that a change would be ushered in next term. As per the new format this season, top five teams from the Elite Group, A and B combined qualified for the quarterfinals. Both Punjab and Bengal missed out. Yesterday, Bengal team mentor Arul Lal asked for a change. On Thursday, the Punjab captain said: “I spoke to a lot of senior players, not only from Punjab. I think six teams should qualify from Group A and B. Maybe, from the next season if they (BCCI) send a team from Group B to Group C and then allow six teams to qualify from Group A and B combined and two teams from Group C, that would be better.”
Brief scores: Bengal 187 and 432/6 decl in 130 overs (Abhimanyu Easwaran 201 not out, Manoj Tiwary 105) drew with Punjab 447 and 132/5 in 15 overs (Manpreet Gony 58)