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Shukla leads fightback

- Bengal captain batting on 63; Dinda takes six wickets

Calcutta: Like in a thriller, the suspense in the Bengal-Railways Ranji Trophy quarter-final match is tightly coiled-up and revealing itself only in parts.

If one session throws up a possibility, the next negates it with a spectacular twist; if one day evokes predictions in favour of one team, the next day comes up with its own story to mock every such assumption… As a result, it’s still anybody’s match at the Eden, keeping both the sides on their toes.

While the second day had ended with Bengal on the backfoot, after Railways’ Mahesh Rawat and Arindam Ghosh stitched a durable partnership, the third day saw the home side regain their footing in the morning, lose it by the afternoon and finally managing to pop their heads up at the sunset.

At stumps on Friday, Bengal were 133 for four, with an overall lead of 136. Laxmi Ratan Shukla (batting 63) and Wriddhiman Saha (batting 31) were at the crease.

The way Rawat and Ghosh toyed with the Bengal bowling attack on Thursday, one assumed that they would do the needful to earn their team the crucial first-innings lead. But on Friday morning, such assumptions blurred in the foggy conditions as the Bengal bowlers, led by Ashok ‘warrior’ Dinda, fought for every inch, ultimately snatching a three-run first innings lead.

Railways stopped on 314 in reply to Bengal’s 317. Rawat (119) was the first to go on the day and No.11 Ranjit Mali (4) was the last Railways batsman dismissed. In between, it was the tale of a chase where the hunter and the subject went around in circles… It was difficult to track who was ahead.

There were dropped chances and missed run outs. But those mortal flaws only went on to make the morning even more lively. It added the element of uncertainty to the game, teasing expectations with sudden highs and lows.

Dinda added three more wickets to his Thursday’s tally of three. Shib Shankar Paul and Sourav Sarkar got the other two wickets.

But it was a Dinda show all the way in the morning. From banging the pitch after dropping a catch off his own bowling to unbridled celebrations on taking the last wicket, he was the character who made the 3000-odd crowd play the game from the stands. The stands were mostly empty, but the chants — ‘Dinda, Dinda’ — filled them up. It’s not everyday that people turn up to see a first-class match, but when they do, the effect is magical. It’s as classical as a radio which has suddenly found its voice courtesy new batteries.

One felt for Railways’ Ghosh, who was unfortunately out on 97. But so was Bengal’s Sudip Chatterjee in their first innings when he fell on 96. The opponents have matched each other with almost an eerie similarity.

The rest of the day belonged to controversies before Bengal captain Shukla decided to draw all the attention to himself. Actually, that’s incorrect. He hardly did anything, because his stroke-making was almost effortless.

Visiting captain Murali Kartik and his players were involved in chats and chit-chats with the umpires and the Bengal batsmen, respectively. While the chats later turned out to be about an alleged case of disfiguring the shape of the ball, the chit-chats were obvious attempts to disturb the batsmen.

Shukla cared little for such things. He never does.

Bengal at one stage were reduced to 40 for four, but Shukla and Saha steered the team out of crisis. While Saha was a picture of clam, Shukla was the hurricane which forced its way forward.

The eight boundaries and one six (over point region) that Shukla hit were bold strikes of a man who thrives in adversity. He has shown the way, hopefully the other Bengal players follow him to reach the semi-final.

Saturday will be a crucial day for both the teams. But as has been the trend, don’t be surprised if the suspense lives on till Sunday, the fifth and final day of the match.