It will be a battle between teams of contrasting fortunes when a high-flying Bengal takes on a resolute Jharkhand in the first quarterfinal of the Ranji Trophy here at the Just Cricket Academy Ground on Monday.
While 2019-20 finalist Bengal emerged unscathed from Group B in the league stage with three outright wins, Jharkhand overcame a shock defeat against Chhattisgarh before stunning heavyweights Delhi and Tamil Nadu in close encounters to top Group H.
Jharkhand proceeded to toy with Plate Group topper Nagaland in the pre-quarterfinal, amassing 880 in the first innings and ending the match with a 1008-run lead – the highest-ever in first-class cricket.
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The premier domestic red-ball tournament returns after a two-month frenzy of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and Bengal’s Shahbaz Ahmed will look to replicate the match-winning cameos he played for Royal Challengers Bangalore.
His unbeaten 71 led Bengal’s chase of 350 against Baroda – its highest-ever in the Ranji Trophy – and he followed it up with 91 runs and four wickets in a 72-run win against Hyderabad.
Both Bengal and Jharkhand have struggled with the bat but their bowlers have more than compensated for it. The pace trio of Ishan Porel, Akash Deep and Mukesh Kumar have picked a combined 39 wickets at an average of 20.74.
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“We'll go in with three pacers definitely, the choice we'll have to make tomorrow is about a fourth pacer or a spinner,” Bengal coach Arun Lal said ahead of the match.
“There's a lot of bounce, there's some grass, the ball deviates off the seam,” he added.
Jharkhand has relied more on spin, with Shahbaz Nadeem picking 18 wickets in four matches, including a match-winning ten-fer against Delhi.
Bengal captain Abhimanyu Easwaran and his counterpart Saurabh Tiwary found form late in the league stage and will hope to build on it. While Easwaran struck 114 in Bengal’s win over Chandigarh in its last league game, Tiwary took Jharkhand over the line with scores of 58 and 93 against Tamil Nadu.
After opting out of the league stage, Wriddhiman Saha has made himself unavailable for the knockouts and Abishek Porel is likely to continue being the first-choice keeper. National duty keeps Mohammed Shami out of Bengal’s squad.
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