Bengal will hope to move one step closer to its first Ranji Trophy title in 32 years when it faces Madhya Pradesh in the semifinal of the 87th edition of India’s premier first-class competition at the KSCA Cricket Ground in Alur from Tuesday.
Both teams come into this match on the back of dominating quarterfinal performances. Bengal broke Jharkhand’s back by amassing its highest first-class total of 773, including a first-class record as the top nine batters all hit 50-plus scores, and MP aced nearly every metric against Punjab.
Centuries from Sudip Gharami (186) and Anustup Majumdar (117) headlined Bengal’s first innings while MP’s runs were evenly spread with Shubham Sharma’s hundred being the highlight.
MP prepped for the semis with an intra-squad match shortly after its win over Punjab. On the other hand, Bengal gave its batters extra time out in the middle as they racked up 318 for 7 after first declaring on 773 for 7. Bengal assistant coach Saurasish Lahiri explained the rationale. “Our batters had struggled in a practice game against Karnataka just before the knockouts. (Arun) Lal sir and I knew then that our batters needed as much game time as possible. And when we were asked to bat by Jharkhand, we tried to make the most of it (smiles).”
Bowling wise, if it was the seamers Puneet Datey and Anubhav Agarwal who starred for MP on the first day of their quarterfinal, the spinners Kumar Kartikeya and Saransh Jain took 10 second-innings wickets between them to hasten Punjab’s rout. Their face-off with Manoj Tiwary, one of the best players of spin bowling, can be decisive.
Pacer Kuldeep Sen, who missed the last game, is expected to be fit for the semifinal. MP head coach Chandrakant Pandit said: “It was just a niggle. If Kuldeep’s injury was serious, he wouldn’t have been travelling with the squad in the first place. He is doing well,” Pandit said.
Meanwhile, for Bengal, Shahbaz Ahmed and Sayan Mondal picked up four wickets each as Jharkhand was bowled out for 298. That combined with Bengal’s much-vaunted fast bowling trio of Ishan Porel, Mukesh Kumar and Akash Deep will test MP’s in-form batting lineup.
As Bengal eyes back-to-back Ranji Trophy finals, MP has a chance to reach its first summit clash since the 1998-99 season, when it lost to Karnataka.