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Utpal check on Hyderabad
- ranji trophy l Raju drops out with fever; Khaleel gets life to post 50 on turner

Calcutta: After keeping the visitors guessing about the pitch for over a day, Bengal unearthed a surface that started offering turn barely an hour into Day I of the Ranji Trophy Elite Group B match at Eden Gardens on Tuesday.

A dour fifth-wicket stand of 79 between Arjun Yadav and Ibrahim Khaleel helped Hyderabad recover from 92 for four and reach 223 for seven at stumps. The first four wickets came in the first session and the duo dented Bengal hopes of keeping the Hyderabad total below 200.

Going by the way the ball turned and popped up awkwardly from certain parts of the pitch at the High Court end before lunch, even a total in the region of 270 should be a respectable one. The first innings lead may not be of much significance in that case as a result seems a possibility at this point in time.

Hyderabad will certainly enjoy the advantage of batting first unless Bengal bat really well in their first innings, but they will also have to make do with the absence of the immensely experienced Venkatapathy Raju. The skipper pulled out of the team this morning because of fever, making way for fellow left-arm spinner Indra Sekhar Reddy. Shivaji Yadav took over as captain.

Bengal went into the match with three specialist spinners, leaving out seamer Ranadeb Bose. And expectedly, Rohan Gavaskar came back to the side ahead of Safi Ahmed. The ageless Utpal Chatterjee was clearly the pick of the bowlers with figures of five for 44 — his 30th five-wicket haul in Ranji Trophy.

Incidentally, he turned his arm over for 35 overs out of a total of 93 during the day.

The left-armer concentrated on getting the basics right, pitching the ball on or around off stump for right-handers with very little variation and let the wicket do the rest. He got surprisingly good assistance from the wicket in the first session and scalped two in that period. It was a fine comeback by Utpal after being criticised by coach Karsan Ghavri during the previous game against Assam.

The same can hardly be said of the other bowlers. Shib Sankar Paul bowled a decent opening spell, getting the breakthrough in the fifth over, but he stopped probing the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ soon after and bowled too many short balls in his later overs, which caused little concern, forget harm.

Bengal were severely let down by the absence of a second new-ball bowler. Laxmi Ratan Shukla, unfortunately, is no more the lively seamer he used to be, that had put him on the international map four years ago. Bowling with a shorter run-up, he struggled to maintain line against the left-right combination. Sanjeev Sanyal, the other seamer, never beat the bat.

The wicket was ‘doing’ quite a bit even after the first hour, and Ranadeb, who hits the seam quite regularly, could have been a good bet. But his omission may not be the only error Bengal have made. Fielding a third specialist spinner in Shib Sagar Singh, who got just three overs (even Rohan bowled five), may be a waste of a slot as an extra batsman could have been accommodated in his place.

Hyderabad had recovered well after the early loss of A. Nandakishore. The left-handed Daniel Manohar and No. 3 A.T. Rayudu added 47 for the second wicket in under 14 overs and both played some pleasing strokes. Rayudu showed a penchant for playing shots, at times with audacious authority, and had cracked five handsome fours before perishing to a shot he should regret.

His dismissal was followed by two more before lunch and Bengal, watched by Jagmohan Dalmiya and almost all top CAB officials, were on top. Yadav and Khaleel negated this advantage with their grim efforts. They put their heads down and concentrated on staying there. Driving Utpal on this wicket was always going to be difficult and Shivlal Yadav’s son provided Bengal the breakthrough when he invited the risk after spending two hours at the wicket.

Khaleel looked neat and composed during his stay of well over three hours and ended the day on a well-deserved 50. Wicketkeeper Aniruddha Roy missed a regulation catch offered by Khaleel when he had 36 and every run the Hyderabad stumper scores here on will make Bengal’s task that much more difficult.

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