| Hyderabad captain Venkatapathy Raju warms up for practice at Eden Gardens on Monday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: Bengalís time of reckoning has come. Demotion from the Ranji Trophy Elite Gorup is more than a possibility and the match against Hyderabad beginning here on Tuesday is probably their last chance to ensure this ignominy is avoided.
The situation has prompted authorities to take frantic and unprecedented steps. An SoS was sent to Rohan Gavaskar in Mumbai who flew in late in the evening after the end of the India A-Sri Lanka A match (he couldnít have made it had the Mumbai match not got over on the third day, with a day to go). And acting captain Devang Gandhi was banned from speaking to the press, to help him concentrate.
And last but not least, CAB and BCCI boss Jagmohan Dalmiya himself spared time to offer the players some pep talk on Monday. All this was after an extended pre-season programme, spiced with physical training under a specialist and sessions with a professional motivator.
Even Hyderabad were looking forward to an arrival from Mumbai. Rohanís India A teammate A.T. Rayudu was expected to join the visitors, which would only make the home teamís job more difficult.
Bengalís task is stiff. They will at least have to take first innings lead against a team which has two outright wins from three matches and is on course for a semi-final slot. Hyderabad are devoid of big names, but have been performing well as a team.
Batting has troubled Bengal this season. One century and just one score in the region of 400 in four matches speaks for the sorry state of affairs. Even then, they plan to go into their do-or-die match with just four specialist batsmen.
Nikhil Haldipur, Arindam Das (yet to score a 50 in six Ranji appearances), and the out-of-form Devang are certain to play. Rohan will bat at No. 4 and keep Safi Ahmed out of the XI. After this, all Bengal have are allrounders óLaxmi Ratan Shukla, Sanjib Sanyal, wicketkeeper Aniruddha Roy, followed by five bowlers.
Even in the bowling department, there may be a change with left-arm spinner Shib Sagar Singh replacing seamer Ranadeb Bose. A decision on this will be taken on Tuesday morning.
Rayuduís (who scored a century against Bengal last season) inclusion will lend solidity to what has been already been a strong batting line-up.
Hyderabad put up a heroic show against Assam in Guwahati in their second match and denied the hosts a point even after conceding 500-plus. Former India off-spinner Shivlal Yadavís son Arjun scored 91 in the game and other notable contributors this season include Daniel Manohar and wicketkeeper Khalil Ibrahim.
Seamers N.P. Singh and Mohammed Faiyaz have been among the wickets and will be keen to have a go at a team which hasnít done well with the bat. Former India spinner Venkatapathy Raju, the captain, leads the spin department with Shivaji Yadav for company.
Both camps feel batting first will be the key, though there was apprehension that the track may offer something to the quicks in the opening session. Irrespective of these factors, Bengal will have to play out of their skins to add to their four-match kitty of two points.
Bengal coach Karsan Ghavri, away in Colombo with personal work, did not conduct the match-eve training session. He left the city on Friday but should join the team before the match.
Bengal: Nikhil Haldipur, Arindam Das, Devang Gandhi, Rohan Gavaskar, Sanjib Sanyal, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Aniruddha Roy, Utpal Chatterjee, Sourashish Lahiri, Ranadeb Bose/Shib Sagar Singh, Shib Sankar Paul.
Hyderabad: Daniel Manohar, A. Nandakishore, D. Vinaykumar, Aniruddh Singh/A.T. Rayudu, Arjun Yadav, Ibrahim Khalil, Shivaji Yadav, Mohammed Faiyaz, N.P. Singh, Vishnu Vardhan, V. Raju.