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Bengal hope to have the rub of the green

- Abhimanyu, Writtick set to debut; Arindam unlikely to play
Ashok Dinda, at the Eden, on Friday. A Telegraph picture

Calcutta: A group of eager photographers aimed their lenses towards two chairs, placed side by side, on a sun-soaked morning at the Eden. On one sat Manoj Tiwary, the other was occupied by Arindam Das.

At the superficial level, it was just another opportunity for the shutterbugs to capture a few frames for their day’s assignment. But seen from a different perspective, it narrated the story of the Bengal Ranji Trophy team as it stood on Friday, the eve of their Group B match against Uttar Pradesh.

Manoj has by far been the most dominant Bengal batsman in the last few years. He has been a prolific scorer and had also earned himself a place in the national team courtesy his impressive outings on the domestic front. But injury has kept him away from the cricket field this season.

In the absence of Manoj, it has been Arindam who has wielded his bat like a saviour, churning out runs. At the moment, he has the most runs — 446, and most centuries — 2, by a Bengal batsman this season. But Arindam has a back injury and is likely to sit out this match.

So when two of Bengal’s best bets in the batting department have to sit out, how can the team sit back and take things easy?

If that’s not enough, add to it the fact that they will be missing Wriddhiman Saha (doing national duty in South Africa) as well. If describing a depleted batting line-up needed an example, Bengal’s is the best at hand.

Such is the crisis that captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla, who is actually an all-rounder, appears to be the Bradman of Bengal in the present situation. To be fair to Shukla, he has been fighting a lonely battle. The captain has pulled his team out of difficult situations time and again with his courageous batting. But then, it’s a team game and individual brilliance can only form the sugar-coating on success, it can’t author success stories by itself.

Fact is, Bengal are not sitting pretty in the Group B points table. After six matches, they have managed to accumulate just 12 points. They haven’t won a single tie, have drawn five while the match versus Baroda was abandoned under weird circumstances. They have two matches left, including the one which begins Saturday, and even if they win both, their chances of advancing to the next round will depend on a lot of complicated mathematics.

Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand, are enjoying a great run this season. They are perched right at the top with 20 points from five games and have two outright victories to their credit.

For Bengal, both the captain and the coach (Ashok Malhotra) feel that they have to go all out for a victory in this match. There’s nothing to lose, but a lot to gain. The 22-yard strip selected for this match had a grass blanket as of Friday. That will be trimmed, but even then it would probably pass off as a green top. Bengal are banking on their pace battery — Shib Shankar Paul, Ashok Dinda and Sourav Sarkar — to deliver the goods.

Interestingly, the ploy may backfire badly on Bengal as Uttar Pradesh boasts of a strong pace line-up. Led by Rudra Pratap Singh, they have been served very well by Imtiaz Ahmed and the impressive Amit Mishra. Between them, the three have taken 45 wickets this season. In comparison, the three Bengal pacers have together got just 34 scalps to show.

In the spin department too, Bengal off-spinner Saurasish Lahiri will have to match leggie and Uttar Pradesh captain Piyush Chawla’s skills. Not at all an easy job.

Bengal will blood at least two youngsters in Saturday’s match. The immensely talented Abhimanyu Easwaran and middle-order batsman Writtick Chatterjee are sure to play. And if Arindam fails the fitness test, opener Kaushik Ghosh will also get to debut.

Will it be a happy morning for Bengal on Saturday? Or was the two-chair scene a premonition of disaster?