Bengal v Maharashtra, Ranji Trophy semi-finals, Indore, 3rd day January 20, 2014

Toss was the main culprit - Shukla

Karthik Krishnaswamy in Indore

Laxmi Ratan Shukla, the Bengal captain, has said the Holkar Stadium pitch, and consequently the toss, played an inordinate role in the result of the semifinal, which Maharashtra won by 10 wickets inside three days.

"I think, very openly and very personally, the toss is the main culprit," Shukla said after the match. "The history here is such that whoever wins the toss wins the match. That was bad luck for us, losing the toss. But they [Maharashtra] played well, there's no doubt about it."

On day one, when Maharashtra won the toss and bowled Bengal out for 114, the pitch was offering the seamers both movement and lift. Maharashtra, though, still had more than half the first day to negotiate when they began their reply. They weathered that period - helped by inaccurate first spells from Ashok Dinda and Sourav Sarkar - and eventually scored 455.

Sangram Atitkar and Ankit Bawne, whose 113-run sixth-wicket partnership swung the match decisively Maharashtra's way, both said the ball had moved around throughout their time at the crease. The life in the pitch became apparent again when Maharashtra's seamers reduced Bengal to 188 for 7 in the second innings. But Bengal's last three wickets still managed to clout 160 in just 117 balls to avert an innings defeat.

Despite this, Shukla maintained the pitch wasn't the ideal one for a semifinal. "In a Ranji Trophy semifinal if you get a better pitch you'll get a five-day game," he said. "It's my personal opinion that the toss should not be a big factor. The Ranji Trophy is such a big event, and this is a big match - people have come from far, you journalists have come to cover the match - nobody likes it if the match is over in three days. I think there should be a sporting wicket, a natural one. I felt this was an unnatural one."

Asked how he defined an unnatural pitch, considering Bengal had prepared a greentop for their final home match of the group stage, Shukla said it came down to the hardness of the surface underneath the grass.

"I agree we also played on greentops in Kolkata, but they were not like this," he said. "The wicket was hard there, this one looks sloppy. You've been here from the first day, it was unplayable."

Shukla conceded, though, that Maharashtra's bowlers had exploited the conditions - and their batsmen weathered them - better than those in his team. But the toss, he said, still played too big a role.

"Obviously they played 100 or 1000 times better than us, there's no doubt about it," he said. "But if I had won the toss, then who knows, maybe the same thing would have happened to them. But I don't have any complaints. I'm not saying this with ill-will."

Surendra Bhave, Maharashtra's coach, said it was no guarantee that his seamers would have bowled Bengal out cheaply after winning the toss.

"To bowl them out for 114 on this wicket - yes, seaming track and our bowlers are bowling well - but everything has to click to bowl the opposition out for 114, "Bhave said. "When you get tracks like those, the first group of players who need to prepare themselves is actually batters. Toss is always a 50-50 thing, and you could be batting first on a pitch like this, so we had prepared both ways, and we had said that maybe first session, and one more hour, it will still be seaming. We have to buy time if we bat first.

"Bowling first, whenever we have, we have always taken three to four wickets till lunch, and that keeps on happening, so obviously the bowling discipline and catching is working."

Asked how his seamers were able to exploit the conditions better than Bengal's, Bhave said the skill-base of his three pace bowlers was "at par with any team in India right now."

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mandar on January 22, 2014, 22:51 GMT

    This whole article tells the story of Bengal's journey in tournament and about their attitude..alright they won 2 tight games to make it to the semis, but i thought they were lucky to be here in the 1st place. they prepare green tops at home for home advantage and now on this green top at a neutral venue they get the taste of their own medicine and they make excuses about the toss being the most crucial factor..a true case of hypocrisy!!!!

    Kudos to Maharashtra for their 1st final in 21 years, you guys deserve it!!all the best give it your best shot to get the title home!!Jai Jai Maharashtra Majha!!

  • Ashok on January 22, 2014, 5:02 GMT

    Just excuses from Shukla. Bengal lost because their batsmen were found out against the moving ball. It isn't as though they were up against Steyn, Morkel and Philander.

  • Dummy4 on January 21, 2014, 23:08 GMT

    I think Bengal should replace its coach Ashok Malhotra, looks like he is having bad influence on players in inculcating sportive spirit. Bengal players should accept their shortcomings and move on. Instead they are blaming external factors. They made big fuss about "Mankading" incident when clearly they were at fault. Here they are blaming the pitch. If they had lost QF, they would've surely blamed ball tampering by Railways as the factor. WHat happened to that allegation anyway? If it is indeed a false allegation, Bengal team should be reprimanded.

  • Born on January 21, 2014, 17:39 GMT

    Contrary to 'Lame' Shukla, in last three games held in the Hokar stadium during league phase, teams who lost the toss have all been put to bat first and they all went on to gain first innings lead after piling up runs. Shukla should give credit to MH players for their clinical performance. Bengal did all the chest-thumping after couple of wins, whereas KA & MH have gone on with their business without much swagger. Shukla and Dinda are nowhere near being International players, stats don't lie either. I don't know what happened to RR Bose, but he should've played for India.

  • Sanjay on January 21, 2014, 4:45 GMT

    ....and this is Sourav Ganguly's recommendation for the national team. *Sigh*

  • Dummy4 on January 21, 2014, 4:30 GMT

    This is exactly the problem with Indian cricket when traveling overseas. If the batsmen can't handle Indian bowlers in seamer-friendly conditions, how will they face greater bowling attacks? Lame excuse. India needs batsmen who can play on such pitches and this was the chance for someone to stand up and be selected. Word would get around that we have a new Gavaskar or Dravid...but it is such mindsets that we don't need.

  • Rodney on January 21, 2014, 4:18 GMT

    shuklaji if you knew that the team that wins the toss wins the match on this wicket,then after loosing the toss you should have conceded defeat why play for three days and wast time and then cry like a small child.

  • ajay on January 21, 2014, 3:47 GMT

    Dear Mr.Shukla, please consider yourself lucky to scrape through in the previous two games. Concentrate on improving your game than cribbing about toss, etc.

  • James on January 21, 2014, 3:36 GMT

    This match reinforces a few facts about Bengal cricket. First is that Dinda is definitely not of international quality. Second, that Wriddhiman Saha is arguably their best cricketer in the past ten years. It would be good if Dhoni takes rest in a few tests and gives a chance to Saha. Dhoni is still the best for ODIs and T20s.

  • Ashok on January 20, 2014, 19:10 GMT

    Mr. Shukla, Bengal cannot win with just one batsman carrying the side. Saha scored 81 & 89 to carry Bengal to Semi's. Saha scored 29 & an unbeaten century to keep Bengal in the game. Saha literally averaged over 100 in the 2 crucial matches but rest of the Bengal batting did not show any pluck on the same wkt. where Maharashtra scores 650 runs! There is no point in blaming the Wicket when Bengal cannot match Maharashtra in either batting or bowling. If I were you, I would leave the "excuse giving" after losses to the Expert, MS Dhoni. Just accept that better team won!

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