Bengal opener Abhimanyu Easwaran’s maiden double hundred went in vain as Bengal failed to qualify for the knock-out stages after their final Ranji Trophy group B encounter against Punjab ended in a draw.
Abhimanyu batted close to 10 hours and remained unbeaten on 201 from 373 balls (16x4) in his marathon knock that delayed Bengal’s declaration to post-tea session in the must-win contest.
With the India A opener being given an opportunity to achieve personal milestone, any chances of a sporting declaration went up in smoke.
One of Bengal’s biggest bane this season has been bowling.
That veteran Ashok Dinda in one of his underwhelming seasons with only 28 wickets from 8 games had emerged as highest wicket-taker tells a sorry tale that even after five seasons, there is no one better than him.
Bengal declared at 432/6 after Abhimanyu completed his milestone, setting Punjab an improbable target of 173 in 16 overs, with one-hour’s play left on the final day.
Taking up the challenge with a positive mindset, Manpreet Gony (58 from 28 balls; 2x4, 6x6) smashed Bengal bowlers all around the Jadavpur University Salt Lake Campus, and took just 21 balls to notch his second consecutive half-century.
The contest was reduced to a T20 affair with Gony leading Punjab charge. But Gony was cleaned up by Pradipta Pramanik in the 13th over as Punjab were restricted for 132/5 in 15 overs to settle for three points on basis of their first innings lead.
Both the teams finished with 23 points to finish behind Madhya Pradesh (24) and Kerala who became the only to qualify from group B with 26 points.
Punjab lost openers Shubman Gill (eight) and Anmolpreet Singh (six) for 25 runs in 3.1 overs as they promoted Gony to No 3.
The Punjab big-hitter seized the initiative with veteran Yuvraj Singh (12 from nine balls; 2x4) before he ran out the former star allrounder in the fifth over.
But Gony kept the run flow going with skipper Mandeep Singh (35) and he even got a reprieve on 43 when Writtick Chatterjee dropped him at long on.
Punjab were 105/3 after 10 overs as the target seemed within rich with Gony punishing the Bengal attack.
Ashok Dinda bowled a tidy 12th over, conceding just six runs to mount pressure on Punjab.
In the next over, Gony looked to break free against left-arm spinner Pradipta Pramanik only to be cleaned up after missing the line.
Three balls later Mandeep was run out by Dinda as Punjab were 132/5 in 15 when they settled for a draw.
The Punjab skipper criticised Bengal for “negative tactics” and said: “Their approach was negative and poor. With 218/2 on the final day, they could have declared early. But they played slow, giving us little chance to go for a win.”
He further said they were surprised by the wicket that turned out to be batting-friendly.
“Both the teams thought the wicket will crack and will not last till fourth day. But it stayed firm, taking us by surprise,” a dejected Mandeep said.
Earlier resuming the day on 218/2, Bengal skipper Manoj Tiwary who was overnight 90, notched his second century of the season, and 26th overall.
Tiwary made 105 from 173 balls (10x4, 1x6) before being bowled by left-arm spinner Vinay Choudhary as Abhimanyu stayed on to complete his double.
The Bengal opener finished with 861 runs from 6 matches at an impressive average of 95.66 that included three centuries and three fifties.
“He’s definitely special. In the last game too, he scored a century in the second innings and played a match winning unbeaten knock,” the Punjab skipper said showering praise on Abhimanyu.
“He has got an excellent conversion rate and I think we have to learn from him. Definitely, he’s a future of Indian cricket.”
The eight teams qualified for the quarterfinals are Vidarbha, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Saurashtra, Kerala and Rajasthan.
Brief Scores: Bengal 187 and 432/6 declared; 130 overs (Abhimanyu Easwaran 201 not out, Manoj Tiwary 105, Writtick Chatterjee 48; Mayank Markande 3/123). Punjab 447 and 132/5; 15 overs (Manpreet Gony 58, Mandeep Singh 35). Match drawn. Points: Punjab 3, Bengal 1.