| Manoj Tiwary |
Calcutta: Champions always have a reputation to protect. Bengal, after tasting blood in the quarter final against Karnataka, will be desperate to trample Delhi in the semi-final clash of the Vijay Hazare Trophy, in Visakhapatnam, on Saturday. And it is this hunger which gives Bengal an edge.
Whatever questions were raised over Bengal’s performance in the lead-up to the knockout stages, the blockbuster quarter final performance on Thursday have helped them prove a point or two. They lived up to the billing of being the defending champions by putting up a clinical performance against Karnataka, who were one of the favourites in the competition.
Delhi should expect a similar competitive intensity on Saturday, at the Port Stadium.
“We don’t want to complicate things… We want to stick to the basics. I’ve told the guys to play their natural game. I think the boys are really confident of making it to the final,” said captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla.
However, what could dampen the spirits in the Bengal camp is Veer Pratap’s Singh groin injury. The 20-year-old fast bowler will play no further role in the competition as he has been advised rest for two weeks.
Veer Pratap was one of the main protagonists who helped Bengal qualify for the semis. He might have played only in the last two matches but has had a decisive role in them, taking seven wickets. Shukla admitted that Bengal will miss him.
“The doctor has advised him to take rest two weeks’ rest. No doubt that it is a big blow to us… But this will provide an opportunity for others to step up and take the challenge,” said Shukla.
Sourav Sarkar will return to the squad, replacing Veer. Under the circumstances, the onus will lie on Shami Ahmed and Shukla to provide the breakthroughs. Shukla, for the record, has been brilliant with the ball. He is the joint third highest wicket-taker in the tournament, scalping 13 wickets.
Asked about his own form, Shukla said: “I am focussed on the job at hand… I am enjoying myself and trying to contribute to the team’s cause.”
Ahead of the match, what would keep Bengal buoyed is the return to form of their batsmen, to be precise the openers. In the Zonal Leg of the tournament, the Bengal batters struggled incessantly. The team think-tank had tinkered with their opening combination several times without desired results. But Wriddhiman Saha and Sreevats Goswami’s performance in the last match must have assured the team management.
With an in-form Manoj Tiwary providing solidity in the middle-order, it will be important for the others as well to rise to the challenge. Delhi, on the other hand, have been one of the most consistent teams in the competition. Out of five matches, they have won three while two of them have been abandoned. Their bowlers have been in terrific form with Sumit Narwal and Parwinder Awana among wickets.
But Delhi’s strength lies in their batting. The likes of Gautam Gambhir, Unmukt Chand and Mithun Manhas will like to come good on a pitch which will provide assistance to strokemaking as the game progresses.
Asked about their opponents, Shukla said: “We are not thinking too much about our opponents… But that doesn’t mean we are taking them lightly… We want to concentrate on our game and play good cricket.”
They played good cricket in the quarters and two more days of good cricket will give them the trophy. But it’s not that simple and the Shukla’s know that.