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Bengal cautious vs Himachal
- Both teams likely to go in with three spinners for crucial encounter

Calcutta, Nov. 16: Bengal will have to begin from scratch when they take on Himachal Pradesh in their second match of the Ranji Trophy elite group Sunday.

Having failed to garner a point after rains robbed a day-and-a-half in their opener against Rajasthan, the hosts are looking ahead to this tie with much hope. The ‘unknown’ factor about Himachal — the only exceptions being Vikram Rathore, Rajeev Nayyar and Aashish Kapoor — is, however, not allowing them to be complacent, in any way. Rather, there is a sense of guarded optimism in their ranks.

“Most teams are unknown with this new format. With no TV coverage in domestic cricket, one is scarcely aware of what others are doing,” said Bengal captain Rohan Gavaskar.

The Himachal Pradesh skipper, on the other hand, views this as an advantage. “Personally, Bengal is not unknown to me. But if you’re talking of their being alien to the rest of the players, then the advantage should lie with us. It’ll mean no extra pressure,” felt Rathore.

It was the nature of the wicket that dogged much of the attention Saturday. “There seems to be fair sprinkling of grass. It’ll seam a bit early on because of the moisture underneath,” said Rathore. “You can’t get much bounce on this wicket as the lower layer is soft because of the unseasonal rains. On the other hand, if you are hoping to make it a turner, it will be very slow,” said Bengal coach Sambaran Banerjee.

The coach celebrated his birthday Saturday but, much of the attention at the Eden was grabbed by soccer stars, Bhaichung Bhutia and Jose Ramirez Barreto, who had come across to get their injuries examined by Dr Vece Paes. Rohan was more pragmatic in his assessment of the wicket. “We’ve got to do our job, that’s the bottom-line,” he said.

While Rathore felt that two seamers and three spinners would be “ideal” on this track, Sambaran was keeping his options open till Sunday morning.

There are some speculations, however, that Bengal may drop mediumpacer Shib Shankar Pal from the team that played against Rajasthan and play an extra spinner in the form of Murtaza Lodhgar.

It is most likely that Bengal will opt for first use of the wicket, in case Rohan calls it correctly. Given the conditions, it will be a contest between the strong batting lineups of both the teams.

The Bengal skipper felt that the advantage thwarted by the “unfortunate rains” in the opener “will not affect the side mentally.”

“The point system is such that it might go down to the last match of the league to decide the top billing,” Rohan said.

He felt that the shortcomings needed to be sorted out quickly. “It was a good start to the season but we should have got much beyond 413, considering we were 356 for three at one stage.

“We should aim to take off from where we finished last year. We are looking for some of the boys to put their hands up and be counted. Subhomoy (Das), Sourashish (Lahiri), Sanjib (Sanyal), Devang (Gandhi), Laxmi (Ratan Shukla), Deep (Dasgupta) have performed admirably. The players have supported each other well.

“The ultimate aim is obviously to win the Ranji Trophy but, more importantly, we should aim to make ourselves a potent force. We should not regress in any way, from the last time, but progress,” Rohan remarked.

TEAMS

Bengal: Deep Dasgupta, Amitava Chakraborty, Devang Gandhi, Rohan Gavaskar, Subhomoy Das, Sanjib Sanyal, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Utpal Chatterjee, Sourashish Lahiri, Ranadeb Bose, Shib Shankar Pal/Murtaza Lodhgar.

Himachal Pradesh (from): Vikram Rathore, Sandeep Sharma, Nischal Gaur, Rajeev Nayyar, Sangram Singh, Amit Sharma, Virender Sharma, Aashish Kapoor, Vishal Bhatia, Ashok Thakur, Vikramjeet Malik, Rahul Panta.

Umpires: B.K. Sadashiv and S. Laxmanan. Match Referee: S. B. Kulkarni.

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