Ranji Trophy final: Bengal crawl as Saurashtra chase history
Saurashtra, after keeping Bengal bowlers busy for 160 overs over two days, batted out another 70 minutes on the third morning of the Ranji Trophy final here on Wednesday. By adding 38 more runs to the overnight total, the hosts added to the enormity of challenge before Bengal.
Cheteshwar Pujara has back spasms and will bat only if absolutely necessary. If things go according to the home side’s script, he may have done enough. Bengal, 291 runs behind Saurashtra’s first-innings 425, will need to bat out the entire fourth day to stop the hosts from creating history.
Chasing 425 on a very slow Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium wicket, the visitors knew before the innings began that the game could well be decided on the first innings lead.
The hosts’ plans were exactly on those lines, and the players didn’t lack effort when their left-arm-seamers, skipper Jaydev Unadkat, the tournament’s highest wicket-taker, and the raw Chintan Sakariya, opened the bowling. There was constant chatter from the slips. As the batsmen played out the new ball without alarm, the cordon would slip in a reminder, ‘left-arm-spin baaki hai’. The synchronised claps that Saurashtra are known for were on too, to keep the bowlers’ sprits high. There was a ‘Saurashtra jeetega’ chorus from the crowd too; everything to make Bengal feel not at home.
While Ravindra Jadeja is on India duty, Dharmendra, Saurashtra’s other left-arm spinning Jadeja, came on, in the ninth over. Jadeja, a master of his craft in home conditions—not a big turner of the ball but one who knows exactly where to pitch on the Khanderi track, took the first Bengal wicket, debutant opener Sudip Gharami out to a catch at short-leg in the 14th over.
Next to go was Bengal captain Abhimanyu Easwaran, falling to a contentious leg before decision. The partial DRS controversy was waiting to pop up and it did when Easwaran was given out on nine to a Prerak Mankad in-swinger. The batsman sought a review, and it appeared to be missing leg-stump. But with no ball-tracking technology available, the third umpire had to go with the on-field umpire’s call with the batsman struck in line with leg-stump.
The Pujara template of patience and perseverance has borne fruit on this track for years, and Bengal adopted the same tactics. By the time two sessions were over, Bengal were only 94/2 in 42 overs with their best hope Manoj Tiwary and a confident Sudip Chatterjee together.
Tiwary, playing his 100th Ranji match, received a reprieve, bowled of a Chirag Jani no-ball on 18 after lunch. But he could not capitalise, this time playing outside the line and falling leg before to Jani. In came Wriddhiman Saha with a point to prove, after being made to sit out in New Zealand due to lesser batting skills than Rishab Pant. The Saha-Chatterjee partnership that remained unbroken, batting out 13 overs scoring 10 runs, was the most fascinating of the day.
Unadkat having taken 65 wickets this season, the stage was set to showcase another facet of his armoury that got Saurashtra into the final. He bowled a remarkable spell of reverse swing, aided by Sakariya doing the same from the other end. It challenged the defence of the right-left batting combination to the full. Sakariya seemed to have got Chatterjee leg before with a delivery that angled back from off-stump. But the decision was reversed by the TV umpire, adjudicating that the ball had hit the bat first.
Pujara has back-spasms and will bat only if absolutely necessary. If things go according to the home side’s script, he may have done enough. Bengal, 291 runs behind Saurashtra’s first-innings 425, will need to bat out the entire fourth day to stop the hosts from creating history.
The slow and low pitch continued to attract attention with SCA curator Mahendra Rajdev questioning Bengal coach Arun Lal for dubbing the wicket ‘poor’. “It is a rather hasty and poor judgement by the Bengal coach and it may not be beneficial for their own players when the coach makes a statement like this. It is the same pitch for both the teams and was prepared under the neutral curator from BCCI,” he said.
At the end of the day, responding to Rajdev’s comments, Lal maintained his stand. “The ball is reaching two bounces to the keeper. It is not a Ranji Trophy final wicket. It is an under-watered and poor wicket,” he said.