In a season of miracles, Bengal — consisting of some low-profile players — is talked about for its high-impact performances. Can Bengal do it again against a top opponent like Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy semifinals beginning at the Eden Gardens here on Saturday?
The last time the two teams met, in a group match in Bengaluru in 2015, Karnataka out-batted Bengal in the first innings. This time Bengal will be keen not to let Karnataka, which has all bases covered and is studded with four international players, repeat its performance of 2015.
On a greenish track, the Bengal medium-pacers — possibly the trio of Ishan Porel, Mukesh Kumar and Akash Deep (making a comeback after missing the last match due to injury) — will have to find ways to keep the visiting batsmen quiet.
A look at the formidable Karnataka batting order would leave any opposition awe-struck.
K.L. Rahul’s return has bolstered the tourists’ batting, which also comprises captain Karun Nair, Manish Pandey, R. Samarth, Devdutt Padikkal and K.V. Siddharth in the upper half.
It is a ‘good (selection) headache’ for Karun.
The batting is complemented by a sound bowling attack, which has variety and experience. Abhimanyu Mithun, Prasidh Krishna, Ronit More in the pace department and spinners K. Gowtham, Shreyas Gopal (both all-rounders) and J. Suchith have the ability to trouble any side on any surface.
Karnataka, which is making its third straight semifinal appearance, has gone through ups and downs but has found ways to fight back. “Those are the signs of a champion team. You find ways to come out of difficult situations and you find people to step up,” said Karun.
Here, Karnataka and Bengal stand on the same ground. Bengal, which reached the semifinals after two years, displayed a new brand of fearless cricket this season under the stewardship of coach Arun Lal. It may throw the toughest challenge to Karnataka yet.
Its disciplined seamers, useful middle-order batsmen — the seasoned Manoj Tiwary, Anustup Majumder, Shreevats Goswami — and spin all-rounders such as Shahbaz Ahmed and Arnab Nandi have scripted some unbelievable turnarounds.
The bunch has understood the benefit of playing as a unit and will try to continue the momentum. “We are playing good cricket. It’s about continuing to do so,” Bengal captain Abhimanyu Easwaran summed up his team’s approach.
Bengal: Abhimanyu Easwaran (Capt.), Manoj Tiwary, Anustup Majumder, Shreevats Goswami (wk), Sudip Chatterjee, Abhishek Raman, Koushik Ghosh, Arnab Nandi, Shahbaz Ahmed, Agniv Pan (wk), Ishan Porel, Shreyan Chakraborty, Nilkantha Das, Mukesh Kumar, Golam Mostafa and Akash Deep.
Karnataka: Karun Nair (Capt.), R. Samarth, Devdutt Padlkkal, Manish Pandey, K.L. Rahul, Sharath Srinivas (wk), Shreyas Gopal, K. Gowtham, A. Mithun, K.V. Siddharth, Prasidh Krishna, J. Suchith, Prateek Jain, Ronit More and B.R. Sharath (wk).
Umpires: Yeshwant Barde and K. Srinivasan; TV umpire: Anil Chaudhary; Match referee: Prakash Bhatt.
Match begins at 9.15 a.m.