Ranji Trophy 2009-10 November 21, 2009

Faulty covers, Pujara power, and Bengal's problems

Cricinfo picks out the highlights of the third round of the Ranji Trophy 2009-10

Under the covers
Rain is passé, bad light is so 1980s. In Ghaziabad a day's play was lost because of, er, leaky covers. That too in a match that was the glorious homecoming for local wonderkids Suresh Raina and Sudeep Tyagi, something the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association (UPCA) used to bring large crowds to the Mohan Meakins Cricket Stadium. But enough moisture seeped in to rule out play on the first day. "The pitch was covered, but I guess the water must have seeped in through the small holes, which are difficult to detect," Ghaziabad Cricket Association's general secretary, Manoj Makar, a man with a logical bent of mind told Hindustan Times, before pointing to the magnanimity of the body: "So to prevent a similar situation, the association has provided a fresh set of covers."

Guess who's back?
Cheteshwar Pujara scored close to 2000 runs in the previous two first-class seasons, including seven centuries, one of them a triple, and taking Saurashtra to back-to-back semi-finals. Still, somehow, he is not seen as a contender for the national side. Hopefully the selectors know better. A freak injury after the previous season didn't help, as he missed out on the IPL, the domestic Twenty20s, and the Challengers. But the man comes back and - in his first competitive match in six months - scores a double-century . "I hit a couple of shots from the middle of my bat early in the innings and everything seemed like old," he told Indian Express after his unbeaten 204 against Saurashtra. "Not for a minute did I think that I was out of the game." Bowlers of the Ranji, be afraid, be very afraid.

Sourav is in, Eden is not… or maybe it is
If you have been following the Bengal team over the last week, you know all about the venue confusion that Sourav Ganguly's inclusion in the team is causing. A little background first: he has deigned to help Bengal out in their home games in this Ranji season, and also - dare we conjecture - get some match fitness before the all-trivial IPL. So now Bengal's next home game is at the Eden Gardens, reports the Kolkata-based Telegraph. Ganguly is not happy with security arrangements at the Jadhavpur University's Salt Lake campus ground, where the match was originally scheduled. Last checked, the Cricket Association of Bengal had initially denied the request to the move venues but relented a day later. In related news, the "CAB is also planning to keep the Bengal players in a hotel on Monday since a political party has announced a bandh on the following day -- the first day of the match."

More disquiet on the Eastern Front
If you have been following the Bengal team over the last week, you will also know that all is not peaceful in the camp. Reports the Telegraph, again, that Deep Dasgupta is not pleased with having to play under a much younger Manoj Tiwary in the absence of the regular captain, Laxmi Shukla. Dasgupta was reported to have the backing of three selectors. The sheer gall of it is that the new captain rubbed it in by shuffling Dasgupta's place in the batting order. If the paper's sources are to be believed, the former India wicketkeeper and ICL defectee is about to make it clear to the CAB that neither is he enjoying playing for Bengal, nor is he interested in playing more. CAB has a plateful to handle in the coming week. And then will arrive the biggie: how to distribute ODI tickets among its patrons.

The match
While India and Sri Lanka played out a boring draw in Ahmedabad, Assam and Jharkhand were busy showing Guwahati what a draw should be like. First Assam took a slender first-innings lead, and were then made to go all the way in the second innings to defend those three points. After setting them 46 overs to survive, Jharkhand got them seven down in 40. In the 46th over, Samar Quadri took out two more, but that was all we had time for.

The return to the norm
To foil all these ignoble attempts at defaming the honourable boring draw, there was the mother of all boring draws played in Bhubaneswar. Rain, pitch inspections, slow run-rates, this one had it all. After a day and more than 50 overs were lost to rain, Railways gave Orissa 79 overs to score 308 and take three points, or play out the day and take one point. Orissa went for safety. And how they did. A princely 132 runs were scored in those 79 overs. Niranjan Behera and Pravanjan Mullick worked a treat, scoring between them 21 runs in 134 deliveries.

Sarandeep Singh joined the ever-growing list of bowlers (may be we should not use that term since they are being punished for doing otherwise) called for chucking by the on-field umpires during this season. Playing against Mumbai, Sarandeep was no-balled after what were deemed to be five legal deliveries. He didn't "bowl" after that.

Never too late for a maiden century
In the same match, Ajit Agarkar's first Ranji Trophy century saved Mumbai embarrassment against Himachal Pradesh. They were bowled out for 162 on the first day, had conceded an 84-run lead, and were 135 for 4 in the second innings when Agarkar came out to bat. Himachal just couldn't out Agarkar, and Mumbai declared with a lead of 251, going on to win outright by 85 runs.

"No captain is happy with one point. But if you ask me, a point is always better than losing outright. We now have to go for an outright win against Saurashtra. It's our home match and we can't afford to give our opponents any room."
Manoj Tiwary, Bengal's stand-in captain, makes a strong case for higher responsibilities. All international teams are looking for captains who can state the obvious with such remarkable clarity.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo