Rawat century leads Railways fightback
Railways 233 for 5 (Rawat 105*, Ghosh 78*) trail Bengal 317 (Saha 87) by 84 runs
Mahesh Rawat and Arindam Ghosh shared an unbroken 191 for the sixth wicket to help Railways make a strong comeback after the side were reeling at 42 for 5 on the second day of their quarter-final clash against Bengal at Eden Gardens. Rawat finished unbeaten on 105, while Arindam Ghosh was batting on 78 not out, as Railways reached 233 for 5 at the close of play.
After dismissing Bengal for 317 in the morning session, the Railways innings moved in fits and starts, with a wicket usually following close on the heels of a productive over. It happened to Railways' opener Amit Paunikar, who struck three fours off Bengal pacer Sourav Sarkar, before a ball from Ashok Dinda sneaked past his defenses to knock over the off stump. It happened once again when Nitin Bhille smacked two fours off Sarkar before Shivakant Shukla, his partner at the other end, was trapped leg before in Shib Paul's first over of the innings.
But the manner in which the first five overs after lunch progressed would have made Bengal and the raucous fans at Eden Gardens confident of a win. Jonathan Rongsen was out for a 15-ball duck when Abhimanyu Easwaran held on to an edge at third slip off Paul. In the next over, Dinda induced an edge from Bhille, and followed that up with the wicket of Karn Sharma. Suddenly, Railways were tottering at 42 for 5.
However Rawat counterattacked by hitting Dinda for six successive fours in two overs before settling down to play an innings of consummate ease. In spite of his aggression, Rawat's innings was chanceless and the ease with which he struck boundaries negated any feelings of dominance that Bengal had.
At the other end, Ghosh's tight technique and calm approach was the perfect foil for Rawat's attack. While Rawat found batting against Paul a tad tougher than against Dinda, Ghosh played the seamers and spinners with equanimity and an ease that comes with the familiarity of having playing alongside his opponents for many seasons.
Ghosh and Rawat have been involved in two hundred-plus stands this season, and they continued in the same vein on Thursday, frustrating Bengal with their version of the good cop, bad cop routine. Rawat reached his sixth fifty of the season with a six over midwicket off Lahiri from 48 balls, and in the third session, Ghosh opened up to execute a few copybook drives around the ground. Ghosh then made the most of a dropped chance by Abhimanyu Easwaran at second slip to bring up his fifty, his glee evident with a joyful leap in the air.
Rawat's century, his third of this season and the ninth of his first-class career, followed soon after as the batsman swept through the 90s with a brace of fours. He reached the landmark with a hard-run single to mid-on, from 117 balls with 17 fours and a six.
Bengal captain Laxmi Shukla was effusive in his praise for the two batsmen, but also outlined his focus for the third morning.
"Rawat and Arindam batted very well," Shukla said. "Our attack, Dinda, Sarkar and Maco bowled very well, but the batsmen didn't give us chance. I think we can make a strong comeback. The wicket is still slow. It is a good pitch but the early morning moisture on the wicket will be important for us."
On the second morning, the moisture in the pitch also brought an early reward for Railways as Ranjitkumar Mali bowled Dinda for 17. The Railways pacers found help early on but Wriddhiman Saha's stoic innings, and a useful 14 from Paul helped the side reach 317. Saha was bowled by Upadhyay for 87 off 165 balls, with 11 fours and a six.
Still, it was a total Bengal would have taken given they were 233 for 8 on the first evening, and if the hosts strike early on, the 84 runs added by the last two wickets may yet prove to be crucial.
Rachna Shetty is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo