During India A’s recent tour of New Zealand, Abhimanyu Easwaran received a simple piece of advice from Rahul Dravid. The India A coach told the youngster to focus more on the process. “I had a conversation with (Rahul) sir in New Zealand. At the start of the season, I was getting starts but getting out in the 50s and 60s. It happened in New Zealand also. Sir told me not to think about the big scores. ‘Focus on the process. If you are batting on 10, think about taking your score to 15. Assess the situations and bowling accordingly,’ sir advised,” the Bengal opener recounted after his match-winning knock at Eden Gardens on Tuesday.
Easwaran’s 183 not out off 211 balls, including 23 fours and two sixes, saw the hosts chase down 322 to beat Delhi by seven wickets in their Ranji Trophy Elite Group B match. It was Bengal’s highest successful run chase in the Ranji Trophy. Their previous best had been 307 against Karnataka in 2007. The win keeps Bengal in the running for a quarterfinal berth, but Delhi are now out of the race.
The target looked improbable at the start of the day. But a 121-run opening stand between Easwaran and Abhishek Raman set things up for Bengal. Then, three wickets fell in quick succession, as Raman, Sudip Chatterjee and Manoj Tiwary departed. At 137/3, Bengal seemed to have lost the momentum. But Easwaran raised his game in the second session. Anustup Majumdar, too, dug in and scored an unbeaten half-century. They added 186 runs in the unbroken fourth wicket stand to take Bengal to one of their most memorable victories.
Dravid’s mentorship not only makes youngsters better players, the great man helps them become well-rounded individuals as well. Their game awareness grows as a result. Easwaran’s knock was by no means flawless. He had a reprieve on nought on Monday. Today, a couple of half-chances went abegging and a very confident leg-before appeal was turned down. Earlier, Easwaran had a tendency to get bog down under pressure. Today, he showed the maturity to put the false strokes behind him and concentrate afresh on the next ball. He found the gaps to perfection and ran like a hare between the wickets.
Without Navdeep Saini – he came as a substitute fielder on the final day despite back spasms – and Vikas Mishra, the Delhi bowling had been depleted going into this game. And when Kulwant Khejroliya suffered a leg injury and walked off the field early into the second session, it became pedestrian. The left-arm seamer was the only bowler to offer penetration. The rest served freebies. Fielding, too, at times bordered on the amateurish.
With 322 to defend in the fourth innings, it was basically Delhi’s game to lose. They had to bowl poorly to concede the match. They did exactly that to be knocked out of reckoning for a spot in the knockouts. Little wonder that coach Mithun Manhas was disappointed. “I think we have got ourselves to blame the way we bowled. You can’t bowl on both sides of the wicket, when all throughout the game the ball is doing a bit. We dropped a catch as well (in the first session). And I think Easwaran played really well,” he said.
Delhi are a young team, in rebuilding mode. When Easwaran and Majumdar counter-attacked after those three quick wickets, they panicked. Experience might have helped calmed the nerves and devise counter-plans. This begs the question, why didn’t Shikhar Dhawan turn up for his state team this Ranji season despite being out of the Test side? Delhi – 13 points from six matches going into this encounter – needed him, especially after Gautam Gambhir’s retirement mid-season. “That’s for the BCCI to decide, not me,” Manhas said, adding: “We have got a lot of talent in Delhi and at full-strength, we are one of the best teams in the country. I think we will pretty much bounce back.” Bengal, on the other hand, revelled in Easwaran’s performance. Team mentor Arun Lal, however, asked the opener to be consistent. “Easwaran is a class player. Today, we saw the class, but it’s so sad that he doesn’t do this every time. But this unbeaten hundred will give him huge confidence.”
Bengal now have 22 points from seven matches and still require an outright win against Punjab in their final game, starting Monday, to qualify for the quarterfinals. Three points just might give them an outside chance.
Brief scores: Delhi 240 & 301 lost to Bengal 220 & 323/3 in 70.2 overs (Abhimanyu Easwaran 183 not out, Anustup Majumdar 69 not out, Abhishek Raman 52; Kulwant Khejroliya 2/68) by 7 wickets