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Bengal staring at defeat

Sangram Atitkar, after his century, on Sunday. Picture by Prem Singh

Indore: Sunday, a day off for the world, was an off-day for Bengal.

At around 4.30 in the evening, after the umpires had called it a day, one found the frail frame of young Abhimanyu Easwaran on one side of the ground, busy perfecting his front-foot defence, fishing for hope in the twilight. On the other side, Sangram Atitkar’s shyness hardly hid his satisfaction as the scribes flocked around him, punctuating questions with congratulatory praises.

That basically summed up the second day of the Bengal-Maharashtra Ranji Trophy semi-final tie, at the Holkar Stadium — Bengal crouching in the shadow of yet another disappointing day, trying their best to find their feet; Maharashtra glowing in the radiance of another sparkling performance, with one foot firmly placed in the Ranji final.

Easwaran’s eagerness to get his act right is understandable since he will walk out to bat on the third day morning, along with Arindam Das (batting 7), to resume Bengal’s second innings. At stumps on Sunday, Bengal were 16 for one after debutant Koushik Ghosh threw away his wicket, his irresponsibility making a mockery of the distress that Bengal find themselves in.

The Maharashtra batsmen, including their tailenders, frustrated the Bengal bowlers for almost the entire second day. It was literally raining runs and Bengal’s porous umbrella of a bowling attack tried in vain to shield themselves from it.

In reply to Bengal’s first innings score of 114, Maharashtra made 455. It’s really baffling to think that both the totals were generated on the same pitch.

At the end of Maharashtra’s first innings, the Bengal players must have strained their necks looking at the mountainous 341-run lead they conceded. And that must have led to a dizzy feeling or why will Koushik go for an expansive drive off a wide Samad Fallah delivery with just two deliveries left for the day? Koushik is 21 years old. To bat like that, you need to be much younger, when immaturity triggers mindless acts, when irresponsibility is adored as naivete. But Koushik, it’s a Ranji Trophy semi-final, your team’s in trouble and you are an opener. Not a child’s play, certainly.

The story wasn’t so tragic for Bengal when the day begun. Resuming at 164 for four, Maharashtra lost captain Rohit Motwani in the third over of day without a single run being added to the total. Laxmi Ratan Shukla claimed the wicket. Many a time this season, Bengal, pegged back to the wall, have made valiant comebacks. Shukla’s wicket seemed to be the prelude of one such story of recovery. It wasn’t.

Both Shukla and Ashok Dinda bowled inspired spells in search of wickets. But either their deliveries were too good to induce an edge or the Maharashtra batsmen were alert enough to avoid trouble. The new ball was taken after lunch and Dinda used it to dismiss Bawne (89 off 208 balls), thus ending the 113-run sixth wicket partnership. Maharashtra were six down and one thought the Dindas would make short work of the tail. But again, hopes failed to bridge the gulf of reality as from 277 for six, Maharashtra galloped to 455.

Atitkar made 168 off 228 balls, hitting an astounding 29 boundaries. But it was No.9 batsman Anupam Sanklecha (52) who hurt Bengal the most. He stayed at the wicket for 102 minutes and every second of it was an embarrassment for Bengal.

Shukla tried eight bowlers on the day. Barring himself, the other seven were mostly ineffective. So, is there no hope for Bengal? There is. There are three more days of cricket left. The pitch has eased out considerably. If Bengal can bat for two days, at least, they would not only erase the deficit, they may even get a chance to test Maharashtra on a fifth day track. But for that, they would need men, not kids like Koushik.