Ranji Trophy 2019-20: Bengal's topsy-turvy road to the final

Manoj Tiwary and Shahbaz Ahmed have been the top performers for Bengal which made it to the finals with a thumping 174-run victory over Karnataka in Kolkata.

Bengal

Bengal's team photo after reaching the Ranji Trophy final.   -  Ayan Acharya

The seasoned Manoj Tiwary, and Shahbaz Ahmed, the left-arm spinner, have been the top performers for Bengal which made it to the finals with a thumping 174-run victory over Karnataka at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. It had earlier earned a second-place finish in the combined Elite Groups A and B.

Tiwary accumulated 672 runs in 10 matches and is Bengal's highest run-scorer this season. Anustup Majumdar is a close second, with 641 runs from seven matches. Ahmed, Akash Deep and Mukesh Kumar have 30 wickets between them, followed by Ishan Porel - he has been instrumental in Bengal's upswing - who has picked 22.

The team started its campaign with an away win over Kerala in a low-scoring contest in Thumba. It, then, had two draws, grabbing three points through the first-innings lead in both matches. In the second week of January, it tumbled to its first loss, a nine-wicket thrashing by Vidarbha. It quickly bounced back with an innings win over Hyderabad. It was followed by yet another draw against Delhi.

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A narrow win over Rajasthan and a win over Punjab in the final round completed a solid first phase of the Ranji Trophy for the side. Majumdar's magnificent century then fashioned Bengal’s astonishing recovery against Odisha in the quarters, helping it overcome its neighbour on first-innings lead. Notably, the team's success is despite the poor form of captain Abhimanyu Easwaran, the opener.

Best performers

Manoj Tiwary has been Bengal's batting linchpin this season. Against Hyderabad, Tiwary became only the second Bengal batsman, after Devang Gandhi's 323 in 1998-99, to make a first-class triple hundred. He ended the league stage with two half-centuries on a dustbowl against Punjab.

Shahbaz Ahmed had played just two first-class matches before this season, but he turned out to be Bengal's surprise weapon; 30 wickets at an average of just 15.10 were already fantastic, but Shahbaz has also hit 493 runs at 37.92. One of his two half-centuries came in that close run-chase against Rajasthan.

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