Sandeep Warrier swung the ball, and the Ranji Trophy match conclusively in Kerala’s way in admirable fashion on Thursday.
His sensational spell powered the visiting side to a memorable nine-wicket victory inside three days over former champion Bengal at the Eden Gardens. His bowling was clinical, much like Kerala’s performance.
It has to be one of Kerala’s finest wins ever in its 60-year Ranji history. To win away from home against a strong side containing the likes of Mohammed Shami, Manoj Tiwary and Ashok Dinda is something coach Dav Whatmore and his boys could be proud of.
This was the second successive win for the team, having beaten Andhra, also by nine wickets, a week ago at Thiruvananthapuram.
It is early days yet, but Kerala has thus retained its top position in Elite Group B with 13 points, seven more than the second-placed Bengal.
Resuming at five for one, and still 139 behind, it never was going to be easy for Bengal against Kerala’s three seamers, who had complemented one another so well in the first innings.
The wicket may have eased out a bit since then, but there was just about enough juice in the morning, when Warrier and Basil Thampi resumed their new-ball attack.
Warrier proved so difficult to get away; his first four overs were all maidens. His line and length were impeccable and he was threatening to take a wicket any time, as he moved the ball either way.
In his seventh over he got Koushik Ghosh edge to Sanju Samson behind the stumps.
At 26 for two, in walked captain Manoj Tiwary knowing that only a big knock from him would give his team any chance. Tiwary started to stroke sweetly in no time and took his team safely to lunch, along with opener Abhishek Raman, with the scorecard reading at 103 for two.
However, after the break, Warrior broke the back of Bengal’s batting, claiming three wickets within a space of 13 deliveries. He began with bowling Tiwary (62, 75b, 12x4) with one that swung in through the gate, ending the third-wicket stand of 89 runs.
He had removed all the top four batsmen and later returned to take the last wicket, shortly after Tea. Warrior finished with five for 33 from 21.5 overs.
Kerala needed 41 runs to win, but lost out on winning the bonus point narrowly for the second time in a row, when Jalaj Saxena played on to Ishan Porel.
But, the smile was back soon on the face of the all-rounder, as he was named Man-of-the-Match - for the fifth time in his last 10 matches for Kerala - for his brilliant 143 in the first innings.