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Bengal’s semis curse

- Railways to meet Karnataka in Vijay Hazare final
Amit Paunikar

Calcutta: Just about two months back, the Bengal players had bathed in the euphoria of a stunning victory over Railways in the Ranji Trophy. On Friday, they were drenched in the humiliation of crushing defeat at the hands of the same opponents.

Just two days back, batsmen were grass ‘hoppers’ under floodlights on a greenish Eden track, jumping about in their endeavour to tackle some deadly swing bowling. On Friday, a certain Amit Paunikar, who has played just 23 first-class and 34 List A matches, perhaps shone brighter than the mighty floodlights. And there was no bug in the ‘bald’ wicket.

But there wasn’t any bridge to connect past with present as Bengal lost their Vijay Hazare Trophy semi-final match against Railways by five wickets. Railways will play Karnataka, who defeated Jharkhand in the other match of the day, in the final on Sunday. Railways had last played in the final in 2005-06.

Bengal, somehow, are stuck in a vacuum of semis. They had lost to Maharashtra in the Ranji Trophy semis earlier this season and last season, in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, they were stopped by Delhi at the same stage.

On Friday, Bengal won the toss, but were ‘defeated’ in their purpose of putting up a good total on the board. They crawled to 185 and it was not going to be enough on a wicket which, without the grass, became far more tolerable for the batsmen.

Railways raced off to a fluent start, openers Paunikar and Shivakanth Shukla sharing a 109-run partnership. They never looked behind after that. To understand the difference between the two side’s batting, here’s some help: 11 Bengal players together hit 14 boundaries on the day, Paunikar alone achieved that number.

Paunikar’s 83 off 86 balls was complemented well by Shukla, who was patient in his 88-ball 56.

Without the grass, the pitch seemed to be a desert for the Bengal bowlers. None made an impact. They shone briefly, taking four Railways wickets between the 22nd and the 28th overs. But it was too late and too little. Pacer Veer Pratap Singh took three wickets, but wasn’t consistent.

Earlier, such difficult was life for the Bengal batsmen at the Eden on Friday that, at one point, between the 15th and the 39th over, the innings was boundary-less for 142 balls. That’s a pretty striking piece of statistics in a one-dayer, and at a time when most of the batsmen have an uncontrollable affinity for T20-like batting.

Manoj Tiwary was the top scorer for Bengal. He scored 61, but that was only because he survived for 95 balls and sacrificed his love for boundaries. He hit just one, which was helpful in bringing up his fifty. That is not just against the trend, it’s also so un-Manoj Tiwary-like.

Opener Sreevats Goswami was the next highest scorer. His 38 off 50 balls, however, was more strokeful. The left-handed batsman hit six boundaries and was looking good till he was bowled by Amit Mishra’s swing.

The Railways bowlers had impeccable discipline. They conceded just three extras and seldom did they gift boundary balls. Chanderpal Saini, with his part-time medium pace, was the surprise package. Saini claimed three for 25 while Karn and Ashish got two wickets each.

None of the Bengal batsmen, barring Manoj, had the patience to cultivate runs on the difficult track.Opener Jayojit Basu (9) went for the pull shot, ignoring the short-midwicket trap; Wriddhiman Saha (16) couldn’t resist the temptation of pulling a short ball and was caught at midwicket; Shukla (3) was nine balls old when he stepped out to Ashish and was caught at long on.

Sudip Chatterjee (7) was run out when he failed to get back home on time after he had darted out for a single though partner Sreevats wasn’t interested. Sayan Sekhar Mondal’s 28-run innings was scrappy, but it did help the team’s cause. Towards the end, Ashok Dinda (11 not out) was looking good enough to take the team past 200, but he ran out of partners.