The ‘sound of silence’ prevailed at Jadavpur University’s Salt Lake campus ground in the morning. The students were yet to throng their classes before taking a detour to watch some cricket. On the field, Shubman Gill’s brilliance had quietened the Bengal fielders. Only Ashok Dinda in the deep, in front of the makeshift press enclosure, was muttering something under his breath, seemingly unhappy with the flatness of the pitch.
It was inexplicable that Dinda bowled only three overs in the first hour on Tuesday, when there was nip in the air and a hint of moisture on the deck. The experienced medium pacer – the highest wicket-taker for Bengal this term as well – was the hosts’ best bet to make early inroads in the win-or-bust Ranji Trophy game against Punjab. And yet, his junior partner Mukesh Kumar was given more overs. Kumar took four wickets alright – a couple of them on Monday – but he barely made an impact.
Gill, meanwhile, was toying with the Bengal bowling. He resumed on his overnight score of 36 and started a romp, a glorious straight drive off Kumar taking him to another half-century. Punjab were 61/2 then. Bengal turned to their frontline spinner Amir Gani, but Gill handled him with almost ridiculous ease. A drive through mid-off had the trademark of a special talent. In the blink of an eye, he was in the nineties, scoring 55 runs on the second day off just 62 deliveries. The Punjab opener looked set for a big one, when he lost his wicket to the exuberance of youth.
Kumar’s length ball was apparently innocuous. Gill stepped out and tried to clear mid-off, positioned a little wide, but mistimed the chip and hit it straight to Sudip Chatterjee. The fielder somewhat redeemed himself, for he had missed a run-out opportunity when Gill was on 67.
At 129/3 and still 58 runs adrift of Bengal’s first innings total, Punjab needed someone had to anchor the innings. Anmolpreet Singh stepped up to be counted.
Like Gill, Singh too was mentored by Rahul Dravid with India U-19, followed by India A. They have different styles – Singh’s ability to graft complements his team-mate’s free-flowing batting. On Tuesday, with the visitors eyeing a big first innings lead, they needed someone to bat long. Singh finished the day at 124 not out to grind Bengal down.
Singh was not easy on the eye, but his grit deserved a standing ovation. Coming into this game with only one half-century this Ranji season – and a 71 for India A in New Zealand – the 20-year-old toughed it out. He played straight but didn’t spare the loose deliveries. His 83-run fourth wicket association with skipper Mandeep Singh proved to be game-turning.
Mandeep got a reprieve on 20; Shreevats Goswami missing an easy stumping off left-arm spinner Pradipta Pramanik. He eventually departed after lunch on 44, brilliantly taken by Abhimanyu Easwaran at second slip off Kumar. By then, a decent crowd had gathered outside the ground, magnifying the noise level as Yuvraj Singh walked out to bat.
The left-hander, a pale shadow of his former self, missed the line of a Pramanik delivery and was bowled for one. Bengal celebrated the dismissal, but the spectators were disappointed. Gurkeerat Singh then played a very poor shot to hole out to Dinda at mid-on. Pramanik had those two scalps in a five-over spell post-lunch. But otherwise, he bowled a negative line to the right-handers.
From Punjab’s point of view, another partnership was needed down the order. Once again, Singh added 80 runs for the seventh wicket with Gitansh Khera. Punjab finished the day on 357/7, leading by 170 runs and three wickets remaining in their first innings. If Gill’s knock had provided the early impetus, Singh’s unbeaten hundred sapped the hosts.
“Disappointed that I got out on 91. The team is in a good position, but it would have been better if I had batted long. The shot (I played) was instinctive. (But) when they (Bengal) batted, the pitch was a bit moist and offered a little more turn. Today, the surface settled down a bit,” Gill said after the day’s play.
Brief scores: Bengal 187 vs Punjab 357/7 in 110 overs (Anmolpreet Singh 124 batting, Shubman Gill 91; Mukesh Kumar 4/89, Pradipta Pramanik 3/100)