Bengal had played the final in the 2019-20 season and after a COVID induced break, the team qualified for the semi-finals last year when it lost to eventual champions Madhya Pradesh
Bengal reach Ranji Trophy semifinals (Pic Courtesy: PTI)
Packed with impact bowlers, a formidable Bengal demolished Jharkhand by nine wickets inside four days to progress to the Ranji Trophy semi-finals for the third time in a row, here Friday.
Bengal had played the final in the 2019-20 season and after a COVID induced break, the team qualified for the semi-finals last year when it lost to eventual champions Madhya Pradesh.
In fact, defending champions Madhya Pradesh, which has been is Bengal's "bogey team" for quite a few years, is again pitted against Manoj Tiwary's men.
Starting the day at 162 for 7, Jharkhand's lower-order, led by Supriyo Chakraborty (41) did delay the inevitable for just about 15 plus overs in the morning before being shot out for 221.
The target of 67 was more of a romp for India A skipper Abhimanyu Easwaran (28 not out) and in-form Sudip Gharami (26 not out) as the umpires extended the first session to allow Bengal complete formalities in 12.4 overs after they lost opener Kazi Junaid Saifi.
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Under new head coach Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Bengal's pacers Akash Deep (match figures 6/108), Mukesh Kumar (match figures 4/94), Ishan Porel (match figures 2/90) shared 12 wickets amongst themselves.
Rookie Akash Ghatak (match figures 4/36) and seasoned left-arm spin bowling all-rounder Shahbaz Ahmed (2/45 and 81 runs) also played the supporting role to perfection.
Match referee Daniel Manohar's decision to award the 'Player of the Match' award to Akash Deep was fully justified as he set up the match for Bengal on the first day itself when Jharkhand were bowled out for 173 in just 66.2 overs. Akash was the wrecker-in-chief with 4/62 and Bengal never looked back after that.
This year's Ranji Trophy could be a special one for Bengal as skipper Tiwary, also a junior Sports Minister in the Trinamool Congress-run state government, is likely to call it quits if they lift the elusive trophy after 33 years.
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For that, Bengal's pace unit needs to continue firing and produce the goods like it has been doing for the past three seasons.
A unit that has more often than not kept rival teams in the 300-run first innings range for the majority of the last three seasons (current one included) will always be respected by the opposition.
In Mukesh, Akash and Ishan, Bengal have found another potent seam and swing bowling unit after Ranadeb Bose, Shib Shankar Paul and the tireless Ashoke Dinda tormented the opposition between 2005-2008.
Bengal played back-to back Ranji Trophy finals without winning one.
The current troika has already played one final and one semi-final but the players would like to finish one better this time.
Jharkhand 173 and 221 in 63.5 overs (Aryaman Sen 64, Akash Deep 2/46, Akash Ghatak 3/21, Shahbaz Ahmed 2/45).
Bengal 328 and (target 67) 69/1 in 12.4 overs (Abhimanyu Easwaran 28 not out, S Gharami 26 not out). Bengal won by 9 wickets. Qualify for Semi-final.
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