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Bengal flatter to deceive

- From 138/8, UP recover to reach 212; hosts lose two in 10 overs
Uttar Pradesh captain Piyush Chawla evades a bouncer at the Eden, on Saturday. A Telegraph picture

Calcutta: One wonders if Laxmi Ratan Shukla was pondering on a ‘step-by-step’ recovery of his team while climbing the steps (he preferred them to the elevator) to reach the second floor media-conference room at the BC Roy Clubhouse, after the opening day’s play of the Bengal-Uttar Pradesh Group B Ranji Trophy tie, on Saturday.

That was about half-an-hour after stumps were drawn for the day. The Eden, which was bright and sunny under the December sun during the day, wore a dark and gloomy look cloaked by the evening… Very similar to how a buoyed-up Bengal team of the afternoon were degraded to a deflated outfit by dusk.

Bengal ended the day on an edgy 26 for two in reply to the visitors’ first innings total of 212. Geetimoy Basu was batting on 16 while Sudeep Chatterjee was yet to open his account. A barely-fit Arindam Das was out for a duck while debutant Abhimanyu Easwaran could make 10. Both were victims of Rudra Pratap Singh’s swing.

That Bengal at one stage were in complete control of the match, having reduced UP to 138 for eight on a green top, seemed more a chapter of fiction than a piece of fact.

What went wrong? Precisely, just 12-odd overs.

But first of all, let’s not belittle the hard work put in by the Bengal bowlers during the day and acknowledge that restricting the opposition to a total of just-over-200 in a format where a first-innings lead fetches you points is a commendable job.

But such is the situation for the home team that what’s good to the world is not good enough for them. They need the best, which is an outright victory.

Bengal literally had UP pinned on the mat for most of the day. When Amit Mishra was undone by Sourav Sarkar’s reverse swing, which saw the former’s off-stump uprooted, Bengal resembled a pack of hungry wolves. Just two more wickets, both tail-enders, remained and a sub-150 total or thereabouts were all that a battered UP could have dreamt of.

However, Ali Murtaza and Imtiaz Ahmed had other plans. The ninth wicket pair collaborated with some sensible batting to put on a 60-run stand. Those 60 runs might come back to haunt Bengal if the result doesn’t go in their favour. When Murtaza finally departed, edging an Ashok Dinda delivery to ’keeper Geetimoy Basu, UP were on the doorsteps of the 200-run mark, knocking on the doors of confidence.

From the first ball of the 54th over to the first ball of the 66th over, when Murtaza fell, the Bengal bowlers failed to hit the iron when it was hot. They tried, but it wasn’t enough. Captain Shukla, too, was monotonous in his game plan and didn’t try anything different to force a wicket.

So just 12-odd overs spoiled the day for Bengal. Sarkar’s four wickets, Dinda’s three and some brilliant slip fielding by Sudip… All the good work may just turn out to be in vain.

A miss, after all, is often as good as a mile.