Ranji Trophy: with eyes on knockouts, Rajasthan is ready to face Bengal

JAIPUR: With the league stage of the Ranji Trophy In his final fag, which two teams will qualify for knockouts is open to speculation. No late bloomers Rajasthan not resistant Bengal can afford to take their foot off the pedal when they take on each other at the SMS Stadium on Tuesday. Rajasthan Captain Ashok Menaria It is in good condition and has been able to inspire the young team that has produced performances in both batting and bowling departments, reliving the hope of the teams to qualify for the quarterfinals.

Opposite number of Menaria Abhimanyu Easwaran , who returned from the tasks of India 'A', has yet to contribute a great score, but has in his armory a good batting alignment and a bowling battery that boasts of the Akash Deep pacemaker and Shahbaz Ahmed spinner. Easwaran will join the team in the afternoon (Monday).

In the last five Ranji Trophy encounters, Bengal have drawn three games with the first innings lead and have won one as well as lost one game.

The hosts batting has looked wobbly with top-order misfiring on most occasions. Young opening duo of Manender Singh and Yash Kothari has shown promise and all eyes will be on them as to how they respond to the challenge when so much is at stake for Rajasthan. This year, left-arm pacers Aniket Choudhary and Tanveer Ul-Haq have been decent, but have not delivered like they did last season. To rev up the bowling unit, comeback hero Rituraj Singh and left-arm spinner Shubham Sharma have done exceptionally well to keep the momentum going.

Openers' performance is equally worrying for the Bengal side so far. The visitors have been highly dependent upon their middle-order batters, particularly seasoned Manoj Tiwary, who slammed his maiden triple century against Hyderabad only a fortnight ago.

The field has a greenish tinge and both teams would like to get the maximum benefit on the first day that would come when they won the draw.

Bengal are placed third in the Elite Group 'A' with 20 points while Rajasthan is placed seventh with 16 points. On paper, Rajasthan is no match to the stature of Bengal who knows better the pressure of competing in an 'elite' group but no team can be taken lightly, especially when they are playing in their own backyard.