| Nikhil Haldipur drives one en route to his 59 during the Ranji tie versus Andhra Pradesh at the Eden Saturday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Calcutta, Feb. 1: Bengal injected life in an otherwise insignificant match, dismissing themselves for 189 on the opening day of the Ranji Trophy elite group tie against Andhra Pradesh on Saturday.
It justified Andhra skipper M.S.K. Prasadís rather surprising decision to insert the opposition on what appears to be a slow Eden pitch with forecasts of things getting slower during the course of the game.
Prasad explained later that he opted for the unusual because he couldnít gauge how the pitch would behave. However, those who have played on and seen the surface for days looked more the visitors.
Bengal got off to an ultra-cautious start but still managed to keep wickets intact in the first session. The scoring rate was abnormally low ó 52 from 36 overs ó but that was acceptable, considering openers Arindam Das and Nikhil Haldipur were trying to revive their careers after rejoining the side in the previous match.
There was no remarkable assistance from the wicket for both the seamers and spinners. The Andhra bowlers wasted the new ball, making the batsmen play very rarely. The openers, quite understandably and wisely, resisted the temptation of reaching out for things far from the stumps and succeeded in taking the polish off the new ball.
Haldipur was pleasingly different from his familiar casual-elegant-irresponsible ways. The left-hander was a picture of concentration for a better part of his 155-ball stay and played as straight as possible. There were glimpses of the class he had once promised in a straight drive off medium-pacer Sheikh Shahbuddin, which was followed by a pull off the next delivery.
The total read a steady 55 without loss when valour started getting the better of discretion. Arindam Das, unimpressive but patient during his 119-minute vigil, became the first of the three run-out victims ó perishing to a direct hit from point by Shahbuddin.
Haldipur added 50 more with Devang Gandhi and was just beginning to blossom when he edged an ambitious drive to first slip off off-spinner Mohammed Faiq. He should have checked himself ó as he had done so manfully till then ó considering the fact that he mistimed a similar drive off the previous delivery which landed in no-manís land. And this opened the floodgates.
The Andhra bowlers, probing in patches and pedestrian in general, dished out some steady stuff, which unhinged the formidable Bengal line-up. Seamer Kalyan Krishna ripped the heart out of the Bengal middle-order in a seven-over spell of three for 12 and accounted for all the top guns.
Krishna dismissed Devang, Rohan Gavaskar and Deep Dasgupta in a space of 41 balls and 10 runs as Bengal slipped from 105 for two to 115 for five. He was far from menacing but reaped the rewards of sticking to a line just on or outside off-stump.
Devang misread one that swung in and Deep succumbed to one which might have straightened up from a testing line, but in between, Rohan gifted his wicket away. Batsmen do pay the price for casual shots, but Rohanís reckless prod outside off without any movement of the feet was thoroughly unbecoming of a skipper of a first-class cricket team.
Subhomoy Das waged a lone battle in the middle-order and looked far more compact and authentic than his senior colleagues. He was trying to offer the full face of the bat on most occasions and played some bold strokes on either side of the wicket.
But Laxmi Ratan Shukla denied Das the chance to develop a partnership by lifting Faiq to long-on. It was a fielding change Shukla himself had forced a little while earlier, but as if to demonstrate why a man was needed there, he obliged.
Two more run outs followed, including that of Subhomoy off a direct hit from square, and the Bengal essay was over 77 minutes after tea. The Andhra openers kept appealing for light and reached eight without loss when play was called off with an over remaining.
In all probability, Bengal will stay in the elite division this time, but the task might get tougher if this tale of inconsistency spills over to the next season.