Varun Shetty in Kolkata


If you watched Anustup Majumdar lift Bengal from a first-session collapse for the second match in a row on Saturday, you would find it hard to believe that he has only played in 63 first-class matches.

On a chaotic batting day for Bengal, Majumdar expertly handled a fired-up Karnataka bowling line-up to ensure his team didn’t fall behind in the semi-final on the very first day. After being put in, Bengal were reeling at 67 for 6 by the first over after lunch before Majumdar batted with the lower order to stretch their innings to 275 and into day two with a wicket in hand.

Since his debut in 2004. Majumdar has had a stop-start journey, which has included stops at the Kolkata Knight Riders, the Pune Warriors, India A, East Zone, and most recently Railways before a return to Bengal. In that time as a first-class cricketer, Majumdar has had two stellar seasons in his career, averaging 90-plus in both, where he made three centuries each. But his unbeaten 120 on Saturday was only his ninth overall. After an ordinary stint with Railways in 2015-16, Majumdar decided to return to Bengal but wasn’t picked for the 2016-17 season.

Three seasons later, having quit his job with Railways in 2018 to play cricket full time, the 35-year-old is one of the men who has kept Bengal in the hunt for their first final since 2006-07. At no point in this hard path back into the team did he contemplate quitting, the batsman said at the post-day press conference.

“I’ve left my job to play cricket,” he said. “The thought of leaving cricket doesn’t occur to me.”

To Karnataka, it might seem like the thought of departing from the crease itself might be anathema to Majumdar. Their discipline had built enough pressure to dismiss an out-of-form top order cheaply, and a lack of proactive batting only contributed further to Bengal’s fall. Most dismissals bore the usual signs of nervous batting – hard hands, overt aggression, failure to put bad balls away.

But there were none of those when Majumdar was on strike. He started solid and watchful, but without slipping into defensiveness. A lot of his early runs came from sweetly-timed boundaries through the covers, and that would remain his most lucrative scoring region for the rest of the day. It was indicative of a pitch that wasn’t as menacing as the green hue – or the other batsmen – had made it appear.

His batting plan seemed simple enough – play late, play straight, and get behind the ball. From that base, he drove elegantly on the up and off the back foot with little trouble, even indulging himself occasionally by clipping the fast bowlers wide of mid-on from outside off. A lot of it was made easier by having Shahbaz Ahmed at the other end, with whom he had made a seventh-wicket stand of 171 after Bengal had fallen to 46 for 5 in their quarter-final against Odisha.

“Shahbaz and I are stroke makers, we play positively. When Shahbaz came in and started playing his shots, it made me confident that even I could play my shots and be aggressive. So we started attacking and it became the turning point for us,” Majumdar said. “After Shahbaz came in, the match opened up a little. He hit some of their good balls for a couple of boundaries and 30-40 runs into the partnership, they started pulling their lengths back because of it.”

That early counter-punch in the Majumdar-Ahmed stand involved forceful back-to-back boundaries off Ronit More from both of them in consecutive overs. It was almost a signal for a change in pace. After scampering to 66 for 5 in 30 overs, Bengal added 209 in the last 52 overs of the day.

But the partnership with Ahmed itself only lasted until a superb straightening delivery from around the wicket by Abhimanyu Mithun hit Ahmed’s off stump. At 139 for 7, Bengal still had a predicament. That was when No. 9 Akash Deep, the young fast bowler who is having a breakthrough season with the ball, played a crucial hand. Akash, who can hang around but is also capable of hitting big sixes, was the main supporting act as he and Majumdar put on 103 for the eighth wicket.

“I would say it was Akash who changed the complexion of the match,” Majumdar said. “They never thought Akash would play such a knock. They never thought we would put together a century stand for the eighth wicket. He played fearless cricket.”

Akash’s resilience was also down to the fact that Majumdar recognised his partner’s strengths – literally and in terms of skill – against spin, and kept him on strike mostly at the end from which offspinner K Gowtham was bowling. Akash hit him for three sixes in an innings of 44, and suddenly Karnataka’s four-bowler attack was under some strain as their holding bowler was being unsettled.

And in that period, Majumdar himself stepped up the scoring. Their partnership came at 4.54 per over, and on a drying pitch, Majumdar looked even more impenetrable. The booming extra cover drives prompted permanent protection on that boundary throughout the final session, but Majumdar was now also pulling and hooking effectively.

He survived two referrals that were never close, and only had one distinctive moment of trouble when he jumped down the track and looked to smite Karun Nair’s medium-pace over the leg side to try and bring up his hundred. By then, a few hundred local supporters had been cheering for him and Bengal for close to an hour as the team went past 250.

When he did finally get it – pulling Mithun behind square off the front foot – the applause was loudest from the Bengal dugout. Just over a week ago, he had pulled off a similar knock for them, and he had kept them in it once again.

Majumdar said he rated this knock higher than the 157 he got against Odisha, because of the opposition. On a pitch that’s easing out, and against an opposition that has the luxury of bringing in KL Rahul as an extra batting option, it’s too early to say whether Bengal have enough runs. But the last time he made two hundreds in a season, Majumdar had gone on to make a third and, at the very least, he has kept the prospects of that repeat alive.

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