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Crucial match for Bengal

Laxmi Ratan Shukla during a practice session, on Thursday. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi: After a draw against Services on a lifeless track, Bengal would be looking forward to log full points when they play Railways in the Group B Ranji Trophy match, here, at the Jamia Millia University ground, from Friday.

Currently fourth in the group with 11 points, Bengal, as coach Ashok Malhotra puts it, need a win from at least one of their next three matches to grab a spot in the knockout stage. Victory has remained elusive to Bengal so far this season. The track on offer could provide both batsmen and bowers with an equal opportunity to prove their mettle. The season’s only match here so far was a low scoring drawn encounter between Railways and Saurashtra.

Bowlers had dominated in the first two days, while it became easier for the batsmen later. “It is heartening to see there is some life on the wicket unlike the one at the Palam ground where we played our last match,” said Malhotra. “We need six points from a match and this could be the ideal situation.

“Our last match is against Tamil Nadu. They are also not too well placed at the moment. They would definitely play all out,” he added.

But then, Bengal will have a major task on hand against Railways. With two wins and as many draws from four appearances so far, the team, led by Murali Kartik, are now the group toppers with 17 points. Batsmen Shivakant Shukla and Mahesh Rawat, too, are men in form.

In the middle order, the home side features Bengal discard Arindam Ghosh, whose scintillating double century against Baroda helped Railways register a comprehensive win by an innings. Skipper Murali Kartik’s experience also would be the key, especially in the bowling department, along with that of pacers Anureet Singh and Ranjitkumar Mali.

Against Baroda, Mali had snared 10 wickets, taking eight in the first innings.

“It is going to be an even contest,” said Railways coach Abhay Sharma. “Our aim would be to take control in the first session. The seamers may get some help from the wicket during the early stages of the match.

“Batsmen also will have their share of chances as the game progresses,” he opined.

The Railways were originally scheduled to play their home matches in Odisha this season, but later decided to shift base to the capital. Renovated during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the Jamia Millia ground had previously played host to a few Ranji Trophy matches. The multi-sports complex has its pavilion named after its former student Virender Sehwag.

Coming back to

Bengal might effect two changes in the final XI. While Gitimoy Basu is all set to take the place of wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha, Arnab Nandi is likely to come in for all-rounder Sandipan Das, who didn’t do too well in the previous game against Services.

“Nandi can bowl too. It could be an advantage if he gets into the final XI,” said skipper Laxmi Ratan Shukla.

Pacer Ashok Dinda stayed away from Thursday’s practice session because of toothache. However, he will be available for the match, the team management confirmed.

Overall, as Shukla pointed out, Bengal have had a decent season, managing six points from last two matches. The batsmen are also showing some determination, but at this juncture, they do need to score at a faster pace so that the bowlers get enough time to strike back.