|Laxmi Ratan Shukla, on Sunday. A Telelgraph picture
Calcutta: Many a good performance in Indian cricket’s domestic circuit suffers the fate of the greenest patch of grass on a cricket field… Its standout features are often lost in the overwhelming presence of similar kinds. Laxmi Ratan Shukla and his tireless brilliance have been similarly overlooked for years.
Twenty-seven Ranji Trophy teams, 297 players… What’s even worse is that most of them play at the same time, on the same days.
So on a day like Sunday, when Haryana’s Sunny Singh and Hyderabad’s Hanuma Vihari struck double hundreds, poor Shukla’s 117 off 119 balls will be nationally relegated to the summarised scores sections and the statisticians’ note books.
But numbers never narrate the story… They would never tell how Shukla stood like the Colossus on a green top, defying an in-form pace attack, hooking and pulling all the odds away, shouldering Bengal to a position from where ambitions of six points won’t be seen as a fool’s figment of imagination.
Bengal finished their first innings on 284, a 72-run lead over Uttar Pradesh’s 212. And as Ashok Dinda and Sourav Sarkar combined to make UP’s prospects even bleaker in the fading daylight of Sunday, Bengal, who had looked jittery at stumps on Saturday, are suddenly the favourites in the match.
At the close of play on the second day, UP were three down for 50, still trailing by 22, their hopes flickering like a weak flame in the gust of some inspired bowling by the home side. Irrespective of whether anyone admits it or not, it’s a fact that the spring in the steps of the Bengal players was an after-effect of the superlative innings that captain Shukla played during the day.
It was barely an hour into the day’s play and Geetimoy Basu (18) and Writtick Chatterjee (6) had already returned to the pavilion, falling prey to dubious umpiring decisions, when Shukla walked onto the crease.
At 50 for four, Bengal were still 163 runs away from UP’s first innings total. Forget an outright victory, a first innings lead looked a Herculean task.
But then, Shukla can easily be named the Hercules of Bengal cricket. He now has 12 centuries in first-class and List A cricket combined, and almost each of them has been as adventurous as the Greek mythological hero’s ‘Twelve Labours’. Also, time and again, he has held up Bengal’s world of cricket on his shoulders Hercules-like, rescuing them with his signature knocks.
He hooked, he pulled, he hit a six over the cover region, he drove majestically past the bowler… Shukla did almost everything while hitting 16 boundaries and three sixes. Such was his presence that young Sudip Chatterjee’s gem of an innings (66 off 132 balls) remained in the shadow and Rudra Pratap Singh’s first five-wicket haul of the season was barely applauded.
UP captain Piyush Chawla had his left-arm in a sling after he took a full-blooded Shukla drive on his left shoulder. He didn’t take the field after the incident, and though there’s no fracture, it is highly unlikely that he would play any further part in the match.
Shukla did injure UP with his knock. But did he impress national selector Syed Saba Karim who was at the ground on Sunday? If he didn’t, no one would really be surprised.