Bengal needed 350 runs to win a tough semifinal but left-arm spinner Kumar Kartikeya bowled out an under-pressure team to exactly half of the target to take Madhya Pradesh to Ranji Trophy final after 23 years. (More Cricket News)
Kartikeya, who has been impressive in an otherwise disastrous IPL 2022 campaign for Mumbai Indians, bowled 32 overs out of the 65.2 overs that Bengal faced to make 175. His final figures read 32-10-67-5 for a match haul of 8 for 128.
It wasn't the defeat that will hurt Bengal but the manner in which they lost would hurt them the most. It was an abject surrender. Kartikeya actually played with the opposition batters' minds and even their top-scoring skipper, Abhimanyu Easwaran (78), looked beaten from the start.
It was evident when Abhishek Raman, who bagged a pair, forgot to take guard on Friday afternoon. On Saturday morning, Anushtup Majumdar suddenly realised that he has forgotten to wear his thigh guard.
It was nervousness as he edged the first delivery without showing any footwork. It was a delivery that he would have left on any other day. Easwaran seemed too intent to impress the troika of national selectors, present to watch the match, rather than trying to be counter offensive.
An innings that could make him a worthy contender for a spot in the Test team. Easwaran certainly lacks the ability to win tough games. He quietly accumulated runs but not for once did it seem that he is going for the chase.
Once Kartikeya knocked his off stump back with a delivery that kept a touch low, the writing was on the wall. Sayan Sekhar Mondal had a match he would like to forget in a hurry. Bengal added 79 runs to their overnight score of 96 for 4 and with 83 overs set to be bowled, Kartikeya and MP wrapped it up in just 28.2 overs.
“It's Manoj's dismissal last evening that was the turning point,” admitted MP coach Chandrakant Pandit, the man who incidentally was skipper when the team last played the finals in the 1998-99 season.
No wonder, the players that impressed the national selectors were Kartikeya and Rajat Patidar. It was some sight as their teammates curiously watched from the dressing room door seeing chief selector Chetan Sharma speak to the duo.