Uttar Pradesh collapse after fine start
Riding on a solid fifty from Arindam Das and a good performance from its bowlers in the morning, Bengal progressed to a position of dominance on the second day of the Ranji Trophy final at Lucknow. By the time they took the light with 9.1 overs still to be bowled, they had made 138 for 2 in reply to UP's 387, with Arindam firmly placed on 59.
By batting impetuously in the first session and then allowing Bengal to bat themselves to a strong position at stumps on day two at Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh squandered the advantage they had garnered on the first day. Though Mohammad Kaif did well to encourage his troops by cheering them on, constant appealing and unorthodox field placements, it was hard to pardon the hosts' batting line-up - especially the middle order - which failed to capitalise on the gains Kaif had worked hard to earn for them.
Bengal, who have a handsome batting order that runs deep and is among the runs, are now in a position to dictate things on a pitch that is stone-hard. UP's bowlers will have to take a new approach on the third day without missing out on the accuracy factor. As for the batsmen, it was a case of simply waiting for the bowlers to falter. Arindam, Bengal's opener, took the safe route without going for the kill early in the innings. Surviving a lively spell from Shalabh Shrivastava, the left-arm fast bowler, at one end and the guiles of Piyush Chawla's legspin at the other, Das prospered steadily. His 59 from 123 deliveries lacked the aggression of Subhomoy Das, his opening partner, but was more circumspect and appropriate for the occasion.
The Das duo made maximum use of Kaif's field placements, which were rather unconventional. At times, he would have a silly mid-on and silly mid-off, a gully, slip, and a widish short leg for the medium pacers and then he would substitute a silly mid-on, widish short leg, short mid-wicket and a midwicket. With neither Ashish Winston Zaidi or Praveen Kumar bowling with any real pace, the Bengal openers took every opportunity to punish the bad or over-pitched balls.
In the third over of the innings, Subhomoy punched two neat cover drives off Kumar on either side of mid-off to set the tone. By tea, Bengal had progressed to 68 without loss and UP were clearly restless. Into the second over after the interval, however, UP got a breakthrough when Subhomoy went for an expansive drive against Srivastava, only to see the ball move late and crash into the stumps. One delivery after Arindam brought up his fifty with a push past cover for two, Chawla, sending down fizzing legbreaks, almost had his wicket too but Kaif failed to latch on to the outside edge.
In the morning Shib Paul and Ranadeb Bose, Bengal's opening bowlers, had begun the fightback with the new ball. With Paul going full throttle at Suresh Raina and Rizwan Shamshad, the overnight batsmen, with cutting outswingers and short-pitched deliveries alike, the first session proved decisive for both sides. Shamshad was the first to go, edging an outswinger from Bose to Subhomoy at second slip who proceeded to spike the ball - volleyball style - to Arindam at first slip. It was just the breakthrough Bengal were looking for, and it was soon to get better.
Seemingly throwing caution to the winds, Raina continued in aggressive fashion by pulling Paul repeatedly over midwicket. In a third attempt, however, he mistimed the stroke and succeeded in finding Subhojit Paul, the substitute fielder, at deep square leg (333 for 5). It was a rash and poorly judged move from Raina, who fell ten short of a deserved hundred and opened the gates for a Bengal resurgence. Amir Khan, the wicketkeeper, hung his bat out at an away swinger from Bose only to see Deep Dasgupta pull off a fine diving catch in front of Arindam at first slip. Jyoti Prakash Yadav failed to trouble the scorers as he played and missed a fuller delivery from Paul and was trapped plumb in front (333 for 7).
Gyanendra Pandey and Chawla did well to add a further 37 for the eighth wicket before Paul and Bose returned to bundle out UP for 387. From an overnight 299 for 3 to 387, UP only have themselves to blame for the lack of application. All Paul and Bose needed was the slight scent of a collapse, and UP's over-aggressive approach did themselves no favours. With the backbone of the Bengal batting order still intact, Kaif and his side will have to come up with something really good to halt the opposition in their tracks.
Subhomoy Das b Srivastava 34 (68 for 1)
Beaten going for an expansive drive
Abhishek Jhunjhunwala lbw b Chawla 22 (102 for 2)
Trapped lbw not offering a shot to a legbreak
Rizwan Shamshad c Arindam Das b Bose 18 (303 for 4)
Goes for a cut, only manages a thick outside edge to second-slip via first slip
Suresh Raina c Shibsagar Singh b Paul 90 (333 for 5)
Mis-times a pull to deep square leg
Amir Khan c Dasgupta b Bose 3 (333 for 6)
Hangs his bat to an outswinger, plucked by diving Dasgupta in front of first slip
Jyoti Prakash Yadav lbw b Paul 0 (333 for 7)
Caught in front of the stumps by an incoming delivery
Piyush Chawla c Das b Lahiri 22 (370 for 8)
Plays forward and edges to first slip
Gyanendra Pandey c Dasgupta b Paul 26 (382 for 9)
Plays forward, ball kisses the edge of the bat on the way to the `keeper
Ashish Winston Zaidi c Jhunjhunwala b Bose 1 (387 for 10)
Spoons a slog to point
Nagraj Gollapudi is Assistant Editor of Cricinfo Magazine