Youngsters Sudip Chatterjee and Abhimanyu Easwaran, showed maturity beyond years with a brilliant 163-run partnership before another familiar middle-order collapse saw Bengal end the day at 274 for eight against Railways in the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal in Kolkata on Wednesday.
Left-hander Sudeep (96) played a responsible knock and was ably supported by right-hander Easwaran (65) as they resurrected the Bengal innings. In the middle-order, only reserve Test specialist Wriddhiman Saha (60 batting) managed a good score as he added 41 runs for the undefeated ninth wicket stand with Ashoke Dinda (17 batting).
From a comfortable 166 for two, Bengal were reduced to 233 for eight, losing six wickets for 67 runs. Skipper Laxmi Ratan Shukla (17), veteran Sourashish Lahiri (2), young Writtick Chatterjee (0) were out cheaply. Put into bat in seamer-friendly conditions, in-form pacer Anureet Singh (4/75) rocked the Bengal top-order in his very second over, cleaning up Arindam Das (2) and Subhamoy Das (0) in successive deliveries. At three for two, 22-year-old Sudip joined 18-year-old Easwaran as they steadied the ship. Easwaran in his 191-ball knock hit 10 fours while the talented Sudip missed out on his maiden first-class ton hitting 96 off 176 balls with 14 fours. Having done all the hard work, the stylish left-hander Sudip lost his patience momentarily, chasing an away going delivery from Anureet in the second over after tea to miss out on a ton by four runs.
Easwaran started in a rusty manner but the 18-year-old Bengal opener too grew in confidence in Chatterjee's company to notch up his maiden first-class half-century. Leg-spinner Karn Sharma broke the partnership 10 minutes before tea when Easwaran gave a faint nick while going for an expansive shot to a straight delivery.
Returning from national duty, Saha held fort with a defiant 60 not out, studded with a six and seven boundaries to take Bengal close to the 300-mark. Saha found a fine ally in Dinda who struck four boundaries to race to 17 not out from 12 balls. Railways suffered a setback after Anureet limped out of the field suffering from cramps after a marathon spell of 28.2 overs. Anureet's wicket-tally has gone up to 39 wickets.
Watched by former India captain Sourav Ganguly, Chatterjee was a picture of poise and elegance in only his fifth first-class match as he took the attack to the Railways camp. Easwaran looked patchy to start with as the Railways men attacked the rookie opener, while 22-year-old Chatterjee was at ease in his innings.
Effusive in praise for the two yougsters, Bengal coach Ashok Malhotra said former India captain Ganguly too was excited to see them bat with such fluency. "It was simply outstanding. It was a partnership from the Gen-Next of Bengal. Ganguly too was excited to see them bat with ease," Malhotra said of Ganguly who watched the match for more than three hours sitting in the Bengal dug-out.
With the CAB distributing 'complimentary' tickets, there was a crowd of about 2,000 as they cheered the duo who put on their 100-run partnership in 38.4 overs.
"I'm really disappointed with that shot. I was confident of getting to the century. But it's important for us to win now. We were looking at a 350 score," a humble Chatterjee said.
In fact, their rivalry was renewed when Laxmi Ratan Shukla came to bat after the fall of Chatterjee as the skipper looked to attack Murali Kartik who 'Mankaded' Sandipan Das in their league match to fuel a controversy. But Bengal captain Shukla's innings was short-lived with Kartik winning the battle when the Bengal skipper shouldered one to be caught behind for 17. Shukla's full-blooded sweep shot struck short-leg fielder Nitin Bhille before lobbing up as Mahesh Rawat completed the catch. Bhille was taken off the field and coach Abhay Sharma later said that the player has had a bad bruise. There was some more drama in the middle when Writtick was dismissed by Anureet as the decision looked a dubious one with the player pointing his elbow-guard towards the umpire.
The slew of wickets frustrated Saha who was looking at ease at the other end. However, he then found an unlikely support from Dinda to give a push to their first innings total.
Brief scores: Bengal 274/8 in 90 overs (Sudip Chatterjee 96, Abhimanyu Easwaran 65, Wriddhiman Saha 60 batting; Anureet Singh 4/75, Murali Kartik 2/58) vs Railways