Ranji: Late-bloomer Nilkantha Das helps Bengal stage late fightback vs Odisha

Shamik Chakrabarty
Bengal vs Odisha Ranji, BENvODI, Ranji Trophy 2020, Ranji Trophy Quarterfinals

From 135/1, Odisha suddenly slumped to 151/4 and smiles returned to the Bengal camp. ( Shamik Chakrabarty)

At the end of the second day’s play, Bengal’s spin-bowling consultant Utpal Chatterjee heaved a sigh of relief. Three wickets in the last hour had tilted the balance in the visitors’ favour, allowing Chatterjee to breathe easier. “The tension was unbearable. They were playing untroubled and wickets weren’t coming,” he said smiling.

That pretty much summed up the mood of the Bengal dressing-room, where anxiety was writ large when Debasish Samantray and Shantanu Mishra had been putting on a 125-run second wicket partnership. Then, Samantray played a loose shot, Mishra misjudged the line of a Shahbaz Ahmed delivery and the experienced Govinda Poddar was bounced out by Ishan Porel in what turned out to be the final ball of the day.

From 135/1, Odisha suddenly slumped to 151/4 and smiles returned to the Bengal camp. Despite being a five-day affair, this match could well be decided on the basis of the first innings lead. Bengal, after being all out for 332 in their first innings and doing the hard grind for the most part of the day, wrested the initiative.

For the second consecutive day, the pitch eased out post lunch and Odisha benefited from it. Mishra and Samantray were wearing down the bowlers despite going slow. The hosts’ run-rate was a shade over one for the first 18 overs. It sauntered to a little over two in the afternoon session. But in a Ranji Trophy quarterfinal, run-rate was never an issue. It was about playing old-school cricket – staying at the crease, taking a few singles and allowing the occasional boundaries to take care of themselves. The two Odisha batsmen had been doing their job to perfection.

Debasish Samantray (in pic) and Shantanu Mishra had a 125-run second-wicket partnership.

As the ball was doing very little, Bengal chose to go on the defensive. They focused on keeping things tight. Medium pacer Nilkantha Das was miserly and his 15 overs, for just 20 runs and two wickets, kept his team in the game. Das has made his first-class debut this season at 31, after slogging it out for over a decade in club cricket. He has proved to be a serious value addition. He bowls at 120-125kph, has his limitations but the best thing about him is that he is aware of his limitations and bowls accordingly. He can bowl at a nagging line and length for hours and his patience paid off, when Samantray went for a wild slash to a delivery, deliberately bowled a little wide outside the off stump.

Samantray was batting on 68 and should have avoided the invitation. He took the bait instead, edging the ball to Shreevats Goswami behind the stumps. The door was made ajar. Das had his first wicket before lunch, when he removed Anurag Sarangi. After the day’s play, both Arun Lal, the Bengal team head coach, and senior batsman Manoj Tiwary, were full of praise for the medium pacer.

With the bowlers toiling hard and Poddar surviving a very confident leg-before shout, tempers flew. Goswami threw a ball towards the Odisha batsman and received a talking-to from the on-field umpires, Sai Darshan Kumar and Abhijit Deshmukh. Bengal were trying to get under their opponents’ skin and it seemed to have affected Mishra’s concentration. After scoring 62 off 214 balls, he played down the wrong line to a delivery from left-arm spinner Ahmed that straightened. The batsman had played for the angle.

Also, Odisha were naive enough to play an extra over that accounted for Poddar. With just four minutes remaining for stumps to be drawn, a bit of time-wasting during the over number 67 would have done it for the day. But the hosts didn’t slow down the proceedings and allowed Bengal to have one more over. Porel made one rear off a length in the first ball and Poddar couldn’t handle the extra, giving a catch to Anustup Majumdar at slip. As he started walking back to the pavilion, the umpires called ‘time’.
The match, however, is not over yet. Far from it. Odisha still have enough batting to play with. Biplab Samantray and captain Subhranshu Senapati are experienced campaigners at this level. Wicketkeeper Rajesh Dhuper, too, has a first-class hundred. But the hosts will have to bat out the first session on the third day to have any chance of progressing to the semifinals. Early morning freshness is helping the ball to move. Also, the second new ball is due after another 12.5 overs. Bengal seamers are expected to go full tilt.

Earlier, resuming on 308/6, Bengal’s last four wickets added just 24 runs in the morning. Ahmed couldn’t add to his overnight score of 82 and Mukesh Kumar and Porel got out in successive balls. Majumdar took his score to 157 – his highest in first-class cricket – before he was the last man out. For Odisha, Basant Mohanty returned with four wickets.

Brief scores: Bengal 332 (Anustup Majumdar 157; Basant Mohanty 4/53) vs Odisha 151/4 (Debasish Samantray 68, Shantanu Mishra 62; Nilkantha Das 2/20)