Ranadeb Bose does not like being compared with Jason Gillespie even though the resemblances are not all trivial. There is, to begin with, the trademark tresses the two share, not to mention the dead-bat-big-front-foot-down dourness both of them bring to their batting lower down the order. Then there is his action, which may not be as smooth as Gillespie's but the start of the run-up is similar. However, one resemblance Bose wouldn't complain about is his ability to be relentless on unyielding wickets.
One of the most abiding memories of Gillespie is the spirit he bowled with during the second innings of the Laxman-Dravid Kolkata Test, somehow managing to keep the batsmen honest, but without any tangible results. On the third morning of the Ranji final at the Wankhede, it may as well have been Gillespie running in to Dravid and Laxman, and not Bose to Mumbai batsmen. The cause had become just as lost for Bengal once they were bowled out for 143 yesterday as it had become for Australia during the legendary partnership between Dravid and Laxman. Bose, like Gillespie, persisted, not giving up when it was easy to.
Mumbai, leading by 177 in the first innings, looked comfortable at the start of the third day's play at 113 for 2. And with Wasim Jaffer starting the day unbeaten on 50, and Sachin Tendulkar and Amol Muzumdar still to come in, a long day awaited Bengal's bowlers. Moreover, the wicket had eased up and replicating Zaheer Khan's terrifying spell was unlikely. Mumbai, known to remorselessly go in for the kill once they have their opponents down, were looking at batting at least through the third day - some even suggested they could bat through till the fifth evening as they had already attained the first-innings lead. Bose, obviously, had different intentions. He bowled with accuracy, discipline, and heart in the morning session. In the eight-over spell, he gave away 15 runs and got a return catch from Jaffer for his troubles. Throughout the spell, he beat the bat consistently, odd edges flied past slips, but Bose kept coming back with similar intensity every time.
He finishes the season with 57 wickets at an average of 14.23, far ahead of others - Joginder Sharma being the next with 39 wickets. Five of those matches he has played in Kolkata on a pitch that has become a burial ground for the fast bowlers - incidentally, the thing you noticed about Bose when he first studied the Wankhede track was a gleam in his eye. This track is a beauty, he had said, and then followed it up with deeds
By the time he came back for a second spell, Tendulkar had got out but Muzumdar and Abhishek Nair had started scoring freely and put together a partnership that was threatening to make the dreaded come true. But with the reintroduction of Bose first came a plug on the flow of runs, and later the wickets. In the fifth over of the spell, Bose got Muzumdar to drive at a full one which swung just enough to take the edge and for Tiwary to pull off a stunner at gully. In his next over he bowled one that was too good for Ajit Agarkar - pitching on and outside and just moving away to get the edge. Zaheer Khan, the last man, was cleaned up by a swinging yorker to give Bose his sixth five-for of the season, this one being fifth in five matches, to go with three four-wicket hauls. And he has only just played eight matches. He finishes the season with 57 wickets at an average of 14.23, far ahead of others - Joginder Sharma being the next with 39 wickets.
Five of those matches he has played in Kolkata on a pitch that has become a burial ground for the fast bowlers - incidentally, the thing you noticed about Bose when he first studied the Wankhede track was a gleam in his eye. This track is a beauty, he had said, and then followed it up with deeds. He could not dominate like Zaheer did, but then, he would not have hoped to either. There is not much that is spectacular about his bowling, just a nice flowing action and the ability to put the ball in right areas. He does not have the pace to hurry or scare quality batsmen, but uses his height to extract bounce. Accuracy and discipline are his main weapons; he has taken 194 first-class wickets without having bowled a single front-foot no-ball. He corrects you, not in an official game: first class, club et al. Ten thousand six hundred and fifty-eight balls without overstepping even once. This in a country and a time when coaches keep stumps to mark the crease at the nets to ensure bowlers do not bowl no-balls!
An exceptional season, though, has not carried Bose one step higher, into the Indian team. When the list of 30 probables for the World Cup, which did not have his name, was announced, Bose was playing a match against Rajasthan at Kolkata. "I was tired after bowling a long spell," says Bose, "and that news didn't affect me much." His performance since then confirms this, showcasing his unflagging optimism. In some other fortunate setting, probably playing against a team without Tendulkar and Zaheer, Bengal would have been close to winning the Ranji title and were the World Cup not this close Bose could have legitimately fancied his chances to make it to the national side. Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of selectors, had reiterated that the squad was for a one-day competition and not Tests. There might be sliver of hope there for him but, when queried on this, Bose chose to be philosophical with a crisp "these are funny days".