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Rathore leads HP to respectability

Calcutta: He might be around in first class cricket for just another couple of years, but Vikram Rathore is still a name to contend with in the domestic circuit.

The Himachal Pradesh skipper used all his experience and ability to keep the Bengal bowlers at bay on the opening day of the Ranji Trophy clash. At stumps — play was called off 14 minutes before scheduled close because of bad light — he was still seven short of a hundred, but has already shown the promise to bat long.

On a wicket that offered variable bounce, Rathore batted with authority and showed lots of application and concentration in giving Himachal total respectability, ending the day at 203 for four. After being reduced to 104 for three at lunch, Bengal sensed a chance but Rathore ensured a peaceful day for the visitors.

Tight bowling by the spinners restricted the run-flow but Rathore was severe on any loose ball. His driving through the off side was a treat to watch but the Bengal bowlers hardly forced him on to the backfoot.

Rathore was hoping that the first session on the second day would pass off well. “Anything beyond 300 will then be a good score on this wicket,” he said.

The fair sprinkling of grass prompted Bengal to ask Himachal to make first use of the wicket. The pacers, except for Ranadeb Bose, proved to be wayward and that led to the flurry of runs in the first session.

“Eden’s tradition of having some early life on the wicket and the decision to go in with four pacers led to our decision to field first,” explained Rohan Gavaskar.

Ranadeb bowled a good line and got appreciable purchase from the wicket as he kept the pressure on the batsmen. Shib Shankar Pal was never impressive and Sanjib Sanyal was not given a second spell.

Laxmi Ratan Shukla surprised the batsmen by extracting bounce from the wicket but an erratic line came in the way of his proving to be effective. He had Nischal Gaur in discomfort with a couple of bouncers and Sanyal exploited the weakness from the other end. Gaur was tentative as he came forward to the outswinger. The snick went straight to Amitava Chakraborty at second slip.

Amitava held another low catch at the stroke of lunch, Sangram Singh failing to negotiate Ranadeb’s outswinger. The batsman, however, did not seem satisfied with the decision.

An appeal for a Rathore catch by Amitava off Ranadeb was negated since the umpires felt it to have been taken on the first bounce. This was in the second over after lunch and Rathore was then on 40.

In the very next over, Rathore’s snick off Sourashish Lahiri fell to the right of first slip. These were the only blemishes in an innings that spanned 220 balls and included 14 fours.

The former Punjab batsman’s 50 came off 91 balls but he slowed down his approach after lunch in holding the innings together. Rajiv Nayyar, who came back at the fall of the fourth wicket after retiring hurt on 13 because of a sprain in his left leg, is still there with Rathore.

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