New Delhi: A depleted Bengal side will be eager to change its dismal away track record against table toppers Railways when the two teams square off in a group B Ranji Trophy encounter on a seamer-friendly track at the Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) University Sports Complex on Friday.
Railways, who will be playing their fifth game, are at the top of the table on 17 points while Bengal have slowly crawled to 11 from five games with a string of first-innings leads.
Murali Kartik's side will be favourites going into the match as has been the case for Railway vs Bengal duels in Delhi which the institutional side have always overpowered the heavyweights from the East.
For Bengal, the absence of Wriddhiman Saha, who is in South Africa for the Test series, will be felt badly along with likes of injured Manoj Tiwary and Mohammed Shami (on national duty). The pitch at JMI has a fair cushion of grass around the good length area on one side of the 22-yard-strip although it certainly isn't a 'green-top'. Veteran curator Noor Mohammed, who also happens to be the Director of Sports (JMI University), said that the batsmen would also enjoy batting on this track.
"We have shaved off a lot of grass but we have kept enough to have good carry and movement throughout the four days. I can assure that first two days will be good for batting and spinners will get help from third day onwards," Noor Mohammed said on the eve of the match.
Bengal team will have Gitimoy Basu donning the big gloves while all-rounder Arnab Nandy is expected to come in place of Sandipan Das, who looked out of sorts on a flat track against a below par Services attack.
Railways are expected to go with three-pronged pace attack in Anureet Singh (18 wickets), Ranjit Kumar Mali (17 wickets) and Krishna Kant Upadhyay (13 wickets) who have taken 48 wickets amongst themselves. Such has been their domination that skipper Kartik has only bowled 20 overs in three matches so far taking one wicket. While the pitch warrants a third specialist seamer which could be Sourav Sarkar or Manojit Ghosh, Bengal will have their skipper Laxmi Ratan Shukla doing the job of specialist third seamer. Pace spearhead Ashoke Dinda didn't bowl at the nets due to acute toothache.
While coach Ashok Malhotra desperately wants six points from this match, which he thinks gives Bengal the best opportunity to go for maximum, skipper Shukla doesn't want to think too far ahead.
"I have maintained that my job is to play four days of good cricket and not think about the outcome. I will be doing just that. Our team has been gelling well and that's the reason that we have been able to put up decent show without the likes of Manoj, Shami and now Wriddhiman, who have been our key players," Shukla said after training session.
Asked about opposition batsman Arindam Ghosh, who with 310 runs is the second highest scorer for Railways, Shukla said: "I am very happy for Ari (nickname) and would want him to shine for Railways just like Kartik, JP (Yadav) or Sanjay (Sanjay Bangar) has done over the years. He is a good batsman but somehow didn't click when he played for Bengal," Shukla said.
Arindam used to be a fringe player for Bengal till he shifted to Railways this season. Ghosh, who apart from his four first-class matches this season for Railways, has always played for Bengal and wants to treat this as just another match.
"Initially, it felt little awkward as I didn't know most of the boys. Now, I have adjusted to the situation and the double hundred at Moti Bagh has helped a lot. Kartik bhai (captain) has been very encouraging. For me, there's nothing to prove as this is just another match. We need to keep the momentum going," the 27-year-old said.