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All set for a thrilling day

- Captain Kartik’s 56 helps Railways earn the edge in see-saw battle
Murali Kartik, on Saturday. A Telegraph picture

Calcutta: In 2005-06, when both of them were at the peak of their respective careers, they played against each other in an Irani Trophy match, at the Karnail Singh Stadium, in Delhi. Eight seasons since, one has retreated to the role of a spectator while the other is still in the thick of things on the field.

Ranadeb Bose and Murali Kartik were at the Eden, on Saturday. While Kartik was busy on the field, Bose was nestled in the stands, watching the fourth-day action of the Bengal-Railways Ranji Trophy quarter-final match as a former player.

In that Irani Trophy match, Kartik, representing the Railways, had scored 96 invaluable runs in the first innings which helped his team earn a crucial 88-run lead over the Rest of India team. He missed his century after being caught by none other than Bose, off the bowling of Ramesh Pawar, but Railways eventually went on to win the match by nine wickets.

While that remains Kartik’s highest score in all recognised forms of cricket, the current Railways captain’s 56-run innings on Saturday should rank among his best. One guesses, Bose, who saw both the innings in person, wouldn’t disagree with that.

The 37-year-old is known more as a bowler, but it was his batting which stood out on Saturday. Chasing a target of 271, Kartik decided to promote himself as an opener. Though it’s not exactly a mountain of a target, it definitely is a tricky chase given the fact that it has to be achieved on fourth and fifth day tracks, which has ample assistance for the bowlers.

It’s not that Kartik was opening for the first time, he has done it earlier. Even in this season, he opened the innings for Railways against Services. But it was still a bold move, to some extent a gamble. Kartik was already in the news, but for all the wrong reasons. With ‘ball-tampering’ allegations making him the ‘villain’ in the public eye, his decision to open could have easily led to scathing criticisms from all quarters if he had failed.

But he didn’t and by the end of the day, Railways had reached 117 for three in pursuit of 271. They have an entire day and seven more wickets at their disposal to knock off the remaining 154 runs. When the stumps were drawn, Arindam Ghosh was looking good on 14. Giving him company was Nitin Bhille, batting on 1.

The match is still very much open, but it is slightly tilted in the visitors’ favour. Kartik’s ‘Mankading’ had irked the Bengal camp during the group-league match, his alleged tampering with the ball brought on him the umpires’ and Match Referee’s warning… But Kartik’s innings on Saturday deserved applause. It was clean and yet lethal. Coming off 102 balls, it had four fours and three sixes. More importantly, he shared a 100-run opening wicket partnership with Amit Paunikar (41).

Railways could have ended the day on a higher pedestal had Bengal not fought back in the last 45 minutes of the day. After 32 fruitless overs from his team, captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla finally managed to get the breakthrough himself when he trapped Kartik lbw. Twelve balls later, Sourav Sarkar’s stunning throw from deep midwicket found Paunikar short of the crease. In the next over, Shivkant Shukla perished at the hands of Ashok Dinda. From 100 without loss, Railways were down to 103 for three.

Earlier in the day, Shukla (76) and Wriddhiman Saha (81) couldn’t replicate their Friday heroics as Bengal, resuming at an overnight score of 133 for four, were all out for 267. Dinda played an entertaining cameo of 27 not out. Railways’ Anureet Singh took five for 72.

Interestingly, only the Bengal-Railways quarter final has spilled over into the fifth day. The others ended in four days. There’s definitely something extra in this game.