KOLKATA: Karnataka landed in Kolkata on Thursday evening for their Ranji Trophy semifinal against Bengal starting on Saturday. It’s unusual, considering that teams prefer training at the match venue at least twice these days. But Karnataka trained at M Chinnaswamy Stadium and made Kolkata wait. Even Bengal for that matter. Over the last two days when Bengal trained, they have taken more questions from the press on Karnataka.
On Friday, as the teams trained in the morning, it was Karnataka who drew all the attention. Ground staff, ball boys, academy kids and media were all glued to the side chasing a third title of the season. Some couldn’t take their eyes off KL Rahul, whose return has made Karnakata think about playing only four bowlers — Abhimanyu Mithun, Ronit More, Prasidh Krishna, K Gowtham — on what appears to be a green pitch.
There is some sort of an air around this Bengal team, which is chasing a first Ranji Trophy since 1990. Despite three final appearances after that, including successive ones in 2006 and 2007, they haven’t been able to add to the tally. Although Karnataka are the favourites given their big-match temperament, Bengal look rather bullish this time.
Despite being aware that fast bowling is Karnataka’s strength — their pace trio has 61 wickets between them — Bengal have opted to retain grass on the wicket. It tells a thing or two. It is a gamble they are willing to take, never mind the lean patch their top-order is going through. They have crossed 300 only thrice batting first and against Odisha in the quarterfinals, Anustup Majumdar got them out of jail from 46/5 on the first morning. A repeat of that collapse and they can kiss goodbye to their campaign.
“We are the favourites. We have momentum behind us and we played some fabulous cricket. And, we have heroes who nobody knows about. We are just getting to hear about them. Tomorrow they could be finished products. We have 3-4 players who could go on to play for India in a year or so. We are a team on the zoom. The curve is going up,” Bengal coach Arun Lal said. One can understand why Lal believes Bengal are the favourites.
Apart from having a potent attack that has carried them to semifinals, Bengal know Karnataka aren’t the team they were three seasons back. After a dominant show in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s, they haven’t been the same in Ranji Trophy.
Captain Karun Nair thinks the time has come to change that. “These are the signs of a champion team. You find ways to come out of different situations and you find people to step up. We have found those individuals. Now it’s time to go one step further and reach the final,” Nair said.
Their batting unit, which is known to accumulate runs, hasn’t done that this season. R Samarth is the only one to have scored a ton. Although KV Siddharth and Samarth are in form, their batting has looked vulnerable. Rahul’s return will no doubt boost them, but Karnataka know they have to raise their game to prevent a third straight semifinal exit. And they are a side that knows how to win the important moments.
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61 No of wickets taken by Karnataka pacers Prasidh Krishna, Abhimanyu Mithun and Ronit More this season.
2006-07 The last time Bengal reached the Ranji Trophy summit clash.