| Sabir Ali celebrates the fall of an Andhra Pradesh wicket at the Eden on Sunday. Picture by Amit Datta
Calcutta: Thoughts of an outright win, after ensuring a first-innings lead, were doing the rounds in the Bengal camp before the Ranji Trophy elite group match against Andhra Pradesh. A grim battle to save the match is what the home team should be looking at now, after Day 2 at Eden Gardens.
Having already bundled out Bengal, Andhra Pradesh’s plan was to bat through the second day. They did and opened up a handy lead of 86 runs by reaching 275 for eight at close on Sunday. Though it never seemed that the visitors would stop short of Bengal’s 189, the home team did force a chance to cut the lead fine. But they went wicketless in the last 24 overs despite managing to reduce M.S.K. Prasad’s team to 210 for eight.
No. 9 Hemal Vatekar displayed clever batting skills to remain unbeaten on 54, with fellow off-spinner and No. 10 Mohammed Faiq for company during an unbroken 65-run ninth-wicket stand. Earlier, Andhra consolidated on the back of a 75-run association for the second wicket between opener Amit Pathak and M. Suresh.
Bengal got an early break — in the second over bowled by Ranadeb Bose — but had to wait for 20 overs for the next wicket as Pathak played the aggressor with Suresh holding up one end in the crucial partnership. Pathak missed a few, miscued some which landed just wide of fielders, but kept ticking somehow.
The right-hander also showed a penchant for having a go at things whenever there was necessary width, and hit 15 fours in his 126-ball knock of 88. This tendency of his eventually led to his downfall as an inside edge off Ranadeb went through the big gap between bat and pad.
But the highlight of the day — and what might end up being the turning point of the match — was the ninth-wicket stand. Vatekar was very much the man to watch for his sensible handling of the attack. A blend of shrewdness and application with a decent array of shots, he was always in the look out for singles by working the ball into the gaps and used his feet well against spinners to steal away the odd boundary.
Captain Rohan Gavaskar distributed a major bulk of the load among the seamers and except for a spell by Laxmi Ratan Shukla before lunch, the Bengal speedsters failed to sustain the pressure. There was some variation and the odd tough one was delivered, but the consistency, accuracy and penetration needed to defend a small total was missing.
Lessons, which ought to be learnt in the nets, were also not on show as Shukla (twice) and Sabir Ali (once) had to be warned by umpire K. Hariharan for running onto the ‘danger zone’ of the pitch. Shukla will be barred from bowling in this innings if he draws one more frown.
Spinners Utpal Chatterjee and Sourashish Lahiri — brought on for the 49th over of the innings — were not threatening either. Sourashish took two wickets but rarely did he succeed in putting doubts in the batsman’s mind. Wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta took two good catches — both down the leg-side.
Distinctly short on talent, Andhra have so far dominated the match just because of their willingness to work hard and application. It’s Bengal’s turn to show that they are aware of these aspects of the game and have resources to end a disappointing Ranji season with some respect.
Cricket, it’s said, is a funny game. Bengal will have to prove that they have the resolve to make sure that they are having fun!