Abhishek Raman scored his fourth first-class hundred. (PTI)
Abhishek Raman is not an elegant left-hander. His placements lack refinement. At times he hit half-volleys straight to the fielder. Raman is an artisan, who thrives on his patience and tenacity. He doesn’t allow outside edges, playing and missing, and mistimed shots to ruffle his batting. He is always ready for the next ball.
In a Bengal batting line-up that greatly depends on Abhimanyu Easwaran and Manoj Tiwary to flourish, Raman is offering the much-needed reliability at the top. The opener scored his second century in as many matches on Wednesday, as Bengal, after losing the toss, finished Day One on 241/4 in their Ranji Trophy Elite, Group A game against Andhra at Eden Gardens. It was Raman’s fourth hundred at this level. At stumps, he was batting on 110, on the heels of his 110 in Bengal’s tournament opener against Kerala.
A green pitch has been laid out for this game. Bengal needed a good start. But Easwaran got out caught behind off CV Stephen for six and alarm bells rang. Despite the grass cover, the pitch played a tad slow. The Andhra seamers needed to bend their back to extract life from the pitch. But they didn’t have a 135kph bowler. More importantly, they bowled far too wide and at times a little too short.
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Raman sensibly decided to bide his time. He didn’t mind testing the patience of the viewers. Attempting a cover drive but not finding the gap that was available, or hitting a half-volley straight to mid-off, wasn’t easy on the eye. From Bengal’s point of view though, he was toughing it out, which was the need of the hour.
Raman had an 87-run partnership with Tiwary for the third wicket. The former Bengal captain, still the best batsman in the side by a distance, was timing the ball well. Andhra came up with a different strategy post-tea. It made things exciting. The visitors decided to target Tiwary with the short ball. Slips were removed, mid-wicket was pushed a little squarer, a short backward square leg was brought in and deep backward square leg was placed a little straighter.
Prithvi Raj Yarra wasn’t quick but he directed his short-pitched deliveries well. Against a faster bowler, Tiwary might have played out the spell, but the veteran batsman decided to take on Andhra’s left-arm medium pacer. A top-edge went over the wicketkeeper for a four. Tiwary, however, was a little late on the hook to another bouncer and gloved it to KS Bharat behind the stumps.
He was scoring at a brisk pace and his departure gave Andhra an opportunity to make inroads. But Yarra had a cramp that forced him to leave the field. Also, Raman ensured that Andhra’s efforts were blunted. As Bengal coach Arun Lal said after the day’s play, without the 26-year-old holding one end up, the hosts could have been eight or nine down today.
Andhra paid for not taking their chances. Bharat missed a stumping off Shoaib Khan, when Raman was on 93. Soon after, the batsman reached his century by hitting a six over deep square. Raman had another reprieve towards the fag end of the day, as Stephen missed a simple caught and bowled opportunity.
Before that however, Stephen had managed to move one late to have Sudip Chatterjee out caught behind. It was another failure for the left-hander whose game has regressed considerably over the last couple of seasons. Chatterjee is now walking a tightrope. Andhra will take the second new ball tomorrow morning and a lot will depend on how they use it. From Bengal’s perspective, as Raman said, the key would be to play out the second new ball.
Andhra left-arm spinner G Manish sustained right shoulder dislocation after having a bad fall while trying to stop a single. He was stretchered off and was taken to a private nursing home. Any further participation in the match for him appears unlikely.
Meanwhile, the solar eclipse on Thursday will not alter the playing hours and the second day’s play will have a scheduled start. The Bengal team management, however, has asked the players to wear sunglasses.
Brief scores: Bengal 241/4 (Abhishek Raman 110 not out, Manoj Tiwary 46; CV Stephen 2/60) vs Andhra.
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