|Laxmi Ratan Shukla
Indore: The noisy Eden Gardens just about a week back was music to the Laxmi Ratan Shuklas when they had outsmarted Railways in the Ranji Trophy quarter finals. But Monday’s graveyard silence at the Holkar Stadium, here, must have invaded the eardrums of the Bengal players with a cacophonic effect.
Bengal’s 10-wicket defeat at the hands of Maharashtra sounds humiliating. For a team which had recorded three outright victories on the trot en route the semi finals, such a result was as insulting as taking a dip in a tadpole-infested pond after a Jacuzzi bath!
To be fair, Bengal had lost the match much earlier. Not once, but twice. First, on the opening day when their 11 players totalled 114 with the bat. Then again, the next day when they allowed Maharashtra to pile up 455, even after having reduced them to 164 for five at one stage.
After conceding a 341-run lead with more than three days of play left, chances of Bengal making a comeback was like hoping to play a sweep shot off the Late Malcolm Marshall! It wasn’t just difficult, it was uniquely impossible, almost to the extent of being an unexplainable situation.
So, Bengal’s defeat didn’t really come as a surprise. When Abhimanyu Easwaran and Arindam Das walked out to the crease on Monday morning, Bengal were 16 for one, 325 runs in the arrears.
Unlike Sunday, which was mostly overcast, the third day of the match began under a sunny sky. Bengal had nine wickets at their disposal. The pitch, which had looked like a minefield on the first day morning, had eased out considerably. It was obvious that more than Maharashtra, the time factor posed a greater threat to Bengal.
Ideally, Bengal needed to bat for at least two days in their second innings not only to force Maharashtra bat again, but also to garner enough runs to give the bowlers a reason to fight on the final day.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. So realistically, one hoped that Bengal would bat sensibly enough to last at least the third day and then see where they stand.
But by tea, all such hopes died an untimely death. First, young Abhimanyu (6) was trapped leg-before by Anupam Sanklecha. Then the experienced Arindam (34) played an absolutely unnecessary hook shot, off the same bowler, to be caught at mid-wicket. Sudip Chatterjee (49) was caught in two minds and was caught behind when he tried to take his bat away from a Samad Fallah delivery.
Captain Shukla (10) saw his stumps lie in a heap when Domnic Joseph went through his gates. Sandipan Das (12) didn’t know what to do with a rising Sanklecha delivery and was caught behind. Sourashish Lahiri (18) was unlucky to be given leg-before to one which looked to be missing the leg stump.
At 188 for six, at tea, Bengal were dead and buried. Wriddhiman Saha was the lone ranger on the 22 yards. The end was imminent. The question was how long would Saha carry the skeleton of the Bengal innings on his shoulders? Well, he did for long enough to help Bengal avoid an innings defeat.
Saha’s sparkling knock of 108 not out was an oasis in the desert of Bengal batting. Together with Sourav Sarkar (35), Ashok Dinda (25) and Shib Shankar Paul (13), Saha saw to it that Bengal crossed the 341 mark. They stopped at 348, giving Maharashtra a farcical target of 8, which they knocked off in 12 balls.