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regular-article-logo Thursday, 20 June 2024

Bigger lead key for Bengal

Bengal, in reply to Jharkhand’s 173, were 238/5 with Shahbaz Ahmed (17 batting) and wicketkeeper-batsman Abishek Porel (25 batting) at the crease

Sayak Banerjee Calcutta Published 02.02.23, 06:08 AM
Bengal’s Abhimanyu Easwaran on way to his 77 on the second day of the Ranji Trophy quarter-final match against Jharkhand at the Eden on Wednesday

Bengal’s Abhimanyu Easwaran on way to his 77 on the second day of the Ranji Trophy quarter-final match against Jharkhand at the Eden on Wednesday Picture by Santosh Ghosh

The expected first-innings lead did materialise after the quicks had wrapped Jharkhand up for a paltry total. But Bengal are still keeping their fingers crossed given how the batters fared on the second day of this Ranji Trophy quarter-final clash at Eden Gardens.

At stumps on Wednesday, Bengal, in reply to Jharkhand’s 173, were 238/5 with Shahbaz Ahmed (17 batting) and wicketkeeper-batsman Abishek Porel (25 batting) at the crease.

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The 65-run lead so far may appear a sizeable one, but after their pacers impressed once again, Bengal could have shut the door on the opposition with solid batting which they haven’t been able to do yet.

Abhimanyu Easwaran (77) and No.3 batter Sudip Gharami (68) had laid the foundation for a formidable total with their 136-run stand after Kazi Junaid Saifi, the other opener, was out leg-before with only 11 on the board.

The Jharkhand bowling attack lacking enough teeth and the pitch getting easier for batting presented both Easwaran and Gharami with an excellent chance to record a three-figure score.

Unfortunately for Bengal, both the batters departed in spite of being well set. Gharami, who had a reprieve on 27 when rival pacer Supriyo Chakraborty shelved a caught-and-bowled chance, was undone by an extra bit of spin from the experienced Shahbaz Nadeem. But the shot from Easwaran — a poke outside the off-stump off Chakraborty’s bowling — could certainly have been avoided.

Precisely, with chief selector Chetan Sharma present at the Eden and the India squad for the third and fourth Tests versus Australia yet to be announced, Easwaran wasted yet another opportunity to post a big one.

The dismissals of Gharami and Easwaran in quick succession triggered a mini-collapse as Bengal suddenly found themselves reduced to 207/5 in the final session from a strongly-placed 147/1. Captain Manoj Tiwary, falling to a low full toss, and the inform Anustup Majumdar — cleaned up by left-arm spinner Anukul Roy who extracted a little more turn — were also among the ones sent back.

However, all-rounder Shahbaz and the enterprising Porel played with intent in the remaining overs of the day instead of going into a shell, which would have allowed the Jharkhand bowlers to exert further pressure.

With not enough batting to follow, the Shahbaz-Porel partnership will be crucial for Bengal if they are to extend their lead to 150 and beyond. No wonder the opening session on Thursday will be a tester for the two overnight batsmen, as scoring should get easier if they can survive that first hour.

“We can’t read much into the current situation since it’s a game of cricket, where anything is possible,” Bengal head coach Laxmi Ratan Shukla said later.

“But yeah, we need to bat well till lunch tomorrow (Thursday) and then till tea so that we can build on the lead and be in a really good position. So it’s just about keeping our heads down and continuing with the work we’re supposed to do.”

Opener concern

Bengal tried out another new opener in the form of Saifi, who scored consistently in the U-25 matches recently. But in his first appearance at the senior level after three years, all the 24-year-old could manage was a single off 24 balls.

“We have given everyone a decent run so far this season. So Kazi too deserves a long run as we know what he’s capable of. We need to be patient with him,” assistant coach Sourashish Lahiri said.

Brief scores: Jharkhand 173. Bengal 238/5 (A. Easwaran 77, S. Gharami 68). At stumps, Day II.

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