Bengal behind as batsmen struggle
Mumbai 297 (Jaffer 80, Nayar 62, Shukla 5-38, Saxena 4-105) and 6 for 0 lead Bengal 201 (Arindam 98*, Tiwary 39, Chavan 4-61) by 102 runs
Bengal have never beaten Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy, and at stumps on the second day it seemed they may have squandered another opportunity to end that winless run since 1949. Bengal have had a frustrating tournament so far, and the current game is threatening to head the way of their low-scoring encounter against Madhya Pradesh in the previous round, which they had lost. Having bowled Mumbai out for 297, Bengal should have got themselves into a position to take a lead, but their batsmen, barring opener Arindam Das, who stayed through to the finish to be stranded on 98, let them down. Ankeet Chavan, the left-arm spinner, picked up four for 61, his best haul in first-class cricket.
The Brabourne Stadium track continued to offer assistance to the seamers, and helped the spinners derive extra bounce and sharp turn. But Bengal's performance had less to do with the conditions than failing to seize on a second chance offered through slip-ups in the field from Mumbai. Three senior Bengal players, including their captain, were guilty of that. Manoj Tiwary, who did better than his counterpart Rohit Sharma, was given a life on 23 when Wasim Jaffer dropped a simple chance at slip. Wriddhiman Saha, the vice-captain, was bowled off a no-ball on nought and Subhomoy Das was put down at first slip on 19. Tiwary added just 16 more after his reprieve, and the other two fell the very next delivery.
Mumbai came hard at Bengal. They rarely stationed more than two fielders in the deep, and showed the urgency in their approach, if not their fielding, to defend a gettable total. They began with four slips and a gully for Dhawal Kulkarni and the steady flow of wickets that followed enabled them to retain packed close-in fields against the seamers as well as the two specialist spinners. The first wicket, of Rohan Banerjee, was a slice of luck, however, as he was run out after being sent back while attempting a third run. Shortly after, the first ball Kulkarni bowled round the wicket got him the wicket of Writam Porel, who was caught at third slip.
Tiwary is not one to look completely settled but he's got a prolific record in domestic cricket to back up his style. His brief innings today had its fair share of plays and misses. It included a leading edge that wasn't far from extra cover, an edge over the slips, an airy shot into the off side that almost carried, and a missed chance by Jaffer at slip off Chavan's next ball. Tiwary counter-attacked, lofting Chavan for successive boundaries that over, one being a six over long-on. He added 72 with Arindam but loosely chipped a flighted delivery from Chavan to mid-off immediately after punching a short ball through cover for four.
Chavan bowled consistently from the Club House end, and round the wicket, targeting some rough areas on the track. He averaged 63.5 for his four wickets on flat tracks in the two games before this, and his captain Rohit Sharma had an extended conversation with him on the eve of this game. "It was a pep talk. On my part, in the previous games my bowling wasn't that good as such so I had to do well getting this game. Fortunately, the wicket favoured me and it happened," Chavan said. "On that [flat] wicket, we needed patience and [were required to] just keep bowling, and if the batsman made a mistake, you could get him out. Here, you had chances of getting him out."
Saha was bowled by a flighted delivery from Ramesh Powar, only for the umpire to double-check for a no-ball and rule that Pawar had overstepped. But the next ball was even better, as Pawar got it to jump off a good length and rap Saha on the glove, resulting in a catch at short leg. Subhomoy looked promising during his innings, smashing Pawar over his head and welcoming Kulkarni in his new spell with an imperious drive down the ground. He, too, was put down, by Hiken Shah at second slip, but prodded again at one of Chavan's deliveries that turned away to be caught at first slip. Bengal had slid to 132 for 5.
There was still depth in Bengal's batting, but Abhishek Jhunjhunwala nicked Avishkar Salvi after looking good with a couple of boundaries and Chavan trapped Laxmi Shukla in front while he tried to sweep. All this time, as wickets kept crushing Bengal's hopes raised by partnerships that had looked encouraging, Arindam's solidity and assuredness stood out at the other end.
Arindam, playing his first game in this Ranji season, cashed in on the width provided by seamers to pierce the off-side field. He used his feet well against spin, though he, too, had some nervous moments when he edged to slip, but the ball had bounced before reaching the fielder as he had played it down with soft hands. As Mumbai spread the field to give him the single when Bengal were eight down, he still managed to find the ropes, once pulling Kulkarni handsomely past two men in the deep. But he was to be deprived of a ninth first-class ton, as Kshemal Waingankar nipped out the last two wickets and robbed Bengal of greater consolation.
Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo