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Bengal eke out victory

- Shami Ahmed’s all-round show in hosts’ three-wicket win

Calcutta: The batting blues continued to haunt Bengal but Shami Ahmed’s unbeaten 23 off eight balls helped them pull off a three-wicket victory against Jharkhand in the Vijay Merchant Trophy tie at the Eden on Monday.

The wicket wasn’t suited for strokeplay, as both captains would testify later, and the target of 162 did turn out to be tough for Bengal until Shami unleashed his pyrotechnics.

The India pacer hit the winning runs with a six in the 34th over by Shahbaz Nadeem.

Bengal should have won with a bonus point to strengthen their position in the zone but the batsmen’s failure forced them to abandon such hopes.

The match started after a two-hour delay and was reduced to 38 over-a-side. According to the match officials, the delay was due to “wet conditions” in the areas close to the pitch.

Jharkhand were only to be blamed for their inept batting after being put into bat. They had a good start and threw it all away with poor shot selection. They galloped to 48 without loss in the seven Powerplay overs and looked set for an intimidating total.

Opener Subroto Ghosh was the more enterprising hitting Shami over square leg for a six, and then followed it up with a boundary through mid wicket.

The 56-run opening partnership ended when Akash Verma was bowled by Laxmi Ratan Shukla in the ninth over.

The floodgates opened for Bengal as Jharkhand lost wickets in quick succession. Iresh Saxena (3/19) made quick inroads with his precision and variation.

Both Ishank Jaggi and Saurabh Tiwary offered poor shots against the left-arm spinner and Sourasish Lahiri, respectively.

Shukla, too, made quick inroads and Jharkhand were quickly reduced to 102 for seven in the 25th over. Kumar Deobrat did the repair job with a cautious 45 off 68 balls with three boundaries and a six.

He added 45 for the eighth wicket with Shiv Gautam and that helped them reach 161.

Bengal’s start wasn’t good and with the batsmen failing to push the run-rate, things looked bleak at the outset. Rahul Shukla bowled an inspired spell from the High Court End removing Sourasish and Sandipan Das off consecutive deliveries to start the slide. The pacer extracted bounce and movement from the wicket to keep the batsmen guessing.

Jaskaran Singh also made good use of the conditions removing the important wickets of Wriddhiman Saha, Shukla and Debabrata Das.

Bengal were reduced to 68 for four before Wriddhiman (37 off 57 balls) and Shukla (23 off 26 balls) stitched together a 53-run stand. Both the batsmen left in the 30th over to trigger panic before Shami and Anustup Majumder pulled them out of danger.

Wriddhiman, like in the previous match against Odisha, was guilty of undoing all the good work with a shot that could always have been avoided. A ball later, Shukla played on trying to cut one that could have been left alone.

Debabrata Das once again failed miserably, showing lack of technique and temperament for this format. Bengal also need to have a closer look at their opening combination with both Arindam Das and Sourasish failing to dominate the bowling and set the momentum to the innings.