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Do-or-die challenge for Bengal, Assam

Laxmi Ratan Shukla

Calcutta: For Bengal, and for Assam as well, it’s the proverbial do-or-die situation. It’s a knockout match before the knockout round. That’s because the winner of the Bengal-Assam Vijay Hazare Trophy East Zone qualifying match, in Ranchi, on Friday, will advance to the main round.

The equation, therefore, is simple. There’s only one option — win. But of course, if it’s rained out, other equations will come into play.

Jharkhand have 10 points and they have already qualified. Tripura and Odisha are already out of contention. Bengal have eight points from three matches to Assam’s six. So whoever wins, will accompany Jharkhand to the next round from the East Zone.

Jharkhand have been the standout team this time, but the rest, irrespective of their line-up, have been more or less evenly matched. Actually, they have been inconsistent and that has made the competition interesting, bringing in the element of surprise to a greater extent than it usually does.

So while going by the paper, one would assume that Bengal are the outright favourites, it wouldn’t be wise to rule Assam out.

To Bengal’s advantage, they are coming off a win while Assam were thrashed by Jharkhand in their last match.

Bengal, too, had lost their match against Jharkhand, that too by a huge margin of 136 runs. But they came back strongly in their next game, against Tripura, registering an eight-wicket victory. That should give Laxmi Ratan Shukla’s team confidence.

While Bengal’s batting had completely flopped against Jharkhand, they redeemed themselves in the match versus Tripura. Chasing a 200-run target, opener Srevats Goswami made merry playing an 84-run innings.

Bengal captain Shukla is not to eager to change his winning combination. “We played well in the last match… So I don’t see any real need to change our team from the last match. However, we will assess the pitch once again on Friday morning before taking a final decision,” Shukla told The Telegraph from Ranchi.

The captain also had special praise for Sreevats. “I kept my faith in him and he came good. We hope him to do well on Friday too,” he said.

Shukla is also not willing to tweak much with his last match’s strategy. “Saurasish opened the innings with Sreevats and did well… I believe they can do well again. One thing is certain, to win we need better teamwork. Our batting needs to click.”