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Bengal squander a golden chance

- Rujul and Rakesh save Gujarat’s day

Calcutta: Morning shows the day, goes the adage. But as reality suggests, it doesn’t always.

When Sourav Sarkar struck in the very first ball of the fourth and final day to remove Venugopal Rao, it seemed as if Bengal would wrap the game up before lunch, at the Eden, on Tuesday.

At 18 for five, Gujarat were in a hopeless position and possibilities of even staging a fightback appeared out of question. Still, Bengal were the ones left ruing, and also stunned, in the end as Gujarat, riding on a valiant 102 not out from Rujul Bhatt, snatched a draw from the clutches of defeat.

The visitors posted 272, losing eight wickets before light faded out to kill the home team’s chances of a victory.

At the start of the day, Bengal looked destined to win by an innings and secure seven points. All they could garner were three points, while Gujarat, given the circumstances, were more than happy with one.

Of course, Bhatt and all-rounder Rakesh Dhruv (83) should be lauded for their resolve and never-say-die spirit, which put the pressure back on Bengal. The bowlers, for their part, should have stuck to their task and got the basics right.

There was still an hour or so left for the close of play when pacer Shami Ahmed earned Bengal the crucial breakthrough to end the 149-run stand for the eighth wicket between Bhatt and Dhruv.

Coming round the wicket, Shami induced an inside edge of Dhruv’s blade that was neatly taken by wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha.

Thereafter, fortunately for Gujarat, the Bengal bowlers did everything except delivering a wicket-taking ball. When a yorker or even a fast, straight one would have been enough for No. 10 batsman Kushang Patel, the bowlers either bowled wide outside the off-stump or dished out short-pitched stuff that were least threatening.

Precisely, Shami was the only soul in the Bengal attack, whose penetrative, hostile spells troubled the visitors. But he didn’t have any luck. The others were rather ineffective through the day, almost as if they were mere standbys, and not active players.

All said and done, centurion Bhatt and Dhruv deserve credit for not backing away. Putting up a partnership that should certainly go down as one of the best so far in the competition, they proved that it’s not over until it’s over.

The striking aspect of this partnership was the left-handed duo’s focus on scoring runs, not just occupying the crease. Dhruv, despite all his deficiencies — lack of feet movement being a glaring one — got behind the line of almost every delivery he faced, meting out proper treatment to the weaker ones.

The occasional play-and-miss not withstanding, the Bhatt-Dhruv pair made good use of the new ball, which was taken after 80 overs. With the opposition bowlers wasting the fresh cherry by bowling either boundary balls or ones that didn’t need to be played, the Gujarat duo made merry.

Talking about Bhatt, not for once did he look shaken by Dhruv’s dismissal. His ploy of taking a single on the fourth ball of every over succeeded on most occasions to frustrate Bengal further.

He brought up his third first-class century, dispatching left-arm spinner Iresh Saxena over long-on for a six, a shot that also dispelled Gujarat’s fears of an embarrassing defeat.