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Bengal’s turn to show mettle

Laxmi Ratan Shukla

Calcutta: ‘Impossible is nothing’ could well be Bengal’s motto when they take the field against Tamil Nadu in their last group league match of the Ranji Trophy, in Chennai, on Monday.

The Laxmi Ratan Shukla-led team are out to accomplish the almost-impossible job of defeating Tamil Nadu, preferably with a bonus point, away from home in their endeavour to qualify for the knockout stage. Given their erratic form this season that certainly would prove to be a Herculean task.

But what makes the situation worse is that even seven points (six for victory, plus one bonus) may not be enough for them.

In Group B, Railways, who play Uttar Pradesh in their last match, are already through with 27 points. Two more slots are available and, interestingly, five teams — UP (23), Baroda (20), Tamil Nadu (18), Bengal (18) and Saurashtra (17) — are in the fray.

A win with a bonus point would make Bengal’s chances bright. But they would have to hope that UP and Baroda collect minimal points. While UP will sail through even with three points (for a first innings lead), Baroda, who play Rajasthan, will have to win to qualify in case Bengal or Tamil Nadu manage an outright victory. For Bengal, chances of qualifying without a win looks to be only theoretical.

Such complicated mathematics may just unsettle a team. But Bengal can’t afford that. Not just the numbers, they have other worries as well.

The No.1 challenge will be the Chepauk pitch, which according to many in the Bengal camp resembles a dustbowl. Then, there will be the Woorkeri Raman factor. The former Bengal coach is currently in charge of Tamil Nadu and will certainly know the weak vein of Shukla’s team.

With the wicket expected to be as spinner-friendly as it can get, Bengal are mulling to play three spinners. Sourashish Lahiri and Iresh Saxena are certainties, with one between Arnab Nandy and Jitendra Shaw filling up the third spinner’s slot.

“It is a rank turner… With their pacers not performing up to the mark, they must have thought of preparing a turner. In all probability, there will be a result in the match. And there is no point in playing for a draw. We will go all out and we will play our hearts out. Hopefully, we will come out on top and qualify for the quarters,” Shukla said on Sunday.

“In all probability, we will play with only one pacer. Ashok Dinda will spearhead our attack and I will be the second pacer. Sourashish has been in good form and he will play a key role in the match,” Shukla added.

Shukla, confident as usual, is also not ready to give too much importance to the Raman factor. “Raman Sir knows Bengal cricket like the back of his hand. He is aware of our strengths and weaknesses. But I don’t think it will work to our disadvantage. We have enough quality in our dressing-room to win the match,” he said.

Shukla draws his strength from coach Ashok Malhotra. “We have learnt a lot from Ashok Sir. The team has really benefited from his advice. He has been an inspiration for us. He has always encouraged us to do well.”

Speaking on the opposition, Shukla said: “Tamil Nadu are a top side. However, most of their stars have failed to deliver this season. Still, there is no point in taking them lightly. The players have years of experience behind them and will come hard at us. But we are ready to face the challenge.”