Rawat, Ghosh stand out for consistency
The most dramatic over of the second day of the Bengal-Railways quarter-final happened four overs after lunch, the 22nd over of the Railways innings. Ashok Dinda charged in and got Karn Sharma to nibble at a ball outside off, which was duly collected by Wriddhiman Saha. From 38 for 2 at lunch, Railways slipped to 42 for 5. Out stepped Railways' wicketkeeper Mahesh Rawat, who promptly dispatched the next six balls he faced - over two overs, all off Dinda - for fours.
The first was a stroke down the leg side followed by a drive through the cover region. Another four on the leg side and three near-identical shots that pierced the off-side field with the power and timing that can only come from a batsman who has scored at least a fifty in all but one of the nine games he has played this season.
Over the last two seasons, especially, Rawat has graduated into the mainstay of the Railways batting. In 2012-13, he finished 501 runs from eight games and in this season, has already scored 792 runs with three hundreds, including the ton against Bengal today.
Abhay Sharma, the Railways coach, says the runs reflect Rawat's ability and experience to read a situation in the game. "He plays according to the situation. He is a senior player and he is getting runs at crucial stages," Sharma said. "He understands the role assigned to him and he adapts to that. He is a very good performer."
Rawat shifted to Railways in 2006-07 and has since played 48 matches, scoring more than 2500 runs at an average of over 45. Before that, he played three seasons between 2003-04 and 2006-07 for Haryana, which also had Ajay Ratra in the side. Rawat played 19 games for Haryana, scoring 868 at 31 before the shift to Railways.
Joginder Sharma, the Haryana pacer and Rawat's former team-mate, remembers the latter as a hard-working player. "He was a good batsman and wicketkeeper and worked hard on his game," Joginder said. "It's good to see him doing well in these seasons."
Like Rawat, another player to join Railways and make a big impact is Arindam Ghosh, the elegant right-handed batsman, who until last season played for Bengal. Lack of opportunities -he didn't play any Ranji games for Bengal last season, and was picked twice in 2011-12 - forced Arindam to switch to Railways and since then, the batsman has hit rich form. In nine games for Railways so far, Ghosh has scored 680 runs at 75.55 with two hundreds, including 208 against Baroda to set up an innings win and three fifties. The runs, however, have also come with a lot of pre-season work, as Sharma reveals.
"Arindam played in the inter-railway tournament and he performed well. We spoke to him, after that he had trial games and he performed well there also," Sharma said. "We were looking for a middle-order player and we worked on him, on his technique and his temperament prior to the tournament (Ranji Trophy) and the good thing was that he accepted it and he applied those things and he is implementing it on the 22 yards. We made some changes to his technique, and that is working for him and the side."
The pair notched up their third century stand this season, staging a near improbable rescue act, but Sharma feels there is still a long way to go. Railways ended the second day trailing by 84 with five wickets in hand.
"Both of them batted brilliantly, Arindam and Mahesh," Sharma said. "It's a matter of partnerships, not the number of boundaries. They applied themselves well. We don't know if the six boundaries have an impact on us or the bowling side. It is immaterial because you have to play a long and controlled innings. They have applied themselves until now, but the match is still open."
Rachna Shetty is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo