Bengal seamers will relish Holkar Stadium pitch

Maharashtra needs to punch above its weight for the second time in this season’s Ranji Trophy. After showing mighty Mumbai the door in the previous round, Bengal looms in the semifinals.

The five-day tie at Indore’s Holkar stadium, a venue known for its sporting tracks, will determine whether a team clawing its way up from Group C and among the strugglers in first-class cricket, is worthy of rubbing shoulders with the best.

Maharashtra coach Surendra Bhave asserts, “This team fears no one, otherwise it would have been intimidated by Mumbai. The youngsters in the squad are fearless. The team’s hunger has got us so far,” said the former State captain and ex-National selector. A prime example was Vijay Zol counter-attacking Zaheer Khan in the quarterfinals.

“Maharashtra has been winning titles in junior cricket. People have been asking us when the senior team will deliver results. This group is answering those questions with their performances. The unity in the squad is tremendous, and the time spent together as juniors has helped,” said Bhave, pointing out that his squad has toughened after its Group C experience.

“Competition is tough and Group C sides like Jammu & Kashmir and Kerala can surprise any elite team,” he said. Bengal, an established force in the Ranji Trophy, won an intense quarterfinal against Railways with its bowlers rattling the batsmen on helpful tracks.

The Holkar stadium wicket is known to be friendly towards exponents of seam and swing. Negotiating Ashoke Dinda’s pace, Shib Shankar Paul’s swing and captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla’s nip won’t be easy for the in-form Zol, run-machine Kedar Jadhav and the aggressive Harshad Khadiwale.

Bhave reckons his best batsmen are equipped to handle the situation. “Pace is a mental thing. The technique in watching the ball and leaving it when pitched short is critical. I tried to address this aspect, but it is too late to take them into the nets and change their game. Once the batsmen learn to leave the short deliveries, those pitched up can be worked away by the specialist batsmen,” said the former opener.

Bengal will seek to neutralise the run-hungry Jadhav (1034 runs in nine matches, including five centuries).

Maharashtra’s startling rise to the semifinals, for the first time since 1996, drew a reaction from rival captain Shukla. “They qualified for a Ranji semifinal, so they have to be a good side.”

He is not worrying too much about the opposition, though. “Our job is to play well, sometimes our plans work, at times they don’t. I told my players to stick to their natural game, focus on the basics and enjoy the occasion. Wickets at Indore have always suited Bengal.”

“Saha is a big-match player and the semifinal is the right stage for him to perform. Sandipan may get a look-in for the all-rounder’s slot, said Shukla.

The teams (from): Bengal: Laxmi Ratan Shukla (capt.), Wriddhiman Saha (w/k), Arindam Das, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Subhomoy Das, Kaushik Ghosh, Writtick Chatterjee, Sudip Chatterjee, Ashoke Dinda, Shib Shankar Paul, Sourav Sarkar, Saurashish Lahiri, Iresh Saxena, Gitimoy Basu, Sourav Mondal, Arnab Nandy, Sandipan Das, Veer Pratap Singh; Coach: Ashok Malhotra.

Maharashtra: Rohit Motwani (capt./wk), Vijay Zol, Shrikant Mundle, Sangram Attikar, Samad Fallah, Kedar Jadhav, Harshal Khadiwale, Chirag Khurana, Akshay Darekar, Ankit Bawne, Anupam Sanklecha, Pushkaraj Chavan, Dominic Muttuswamy, S. Kazi, Jagdish Zope; Coach: Surednra Bhave.Umpires: Shavir Tarapore, Dennis Smith; Match Referee: Sunil Chaturvedi.

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