Saurashtra look poised to lift their second Ranji Trophy after skipper Jaydev Unadkat and Chetan Sakariya grabbed two wickets each to leave hosts Bengal struggling at 169 for four in their second innings on day three of the final at the Eden Gardens on Saturday.
While Bengal skipper Manoj Tiwary remained unbeaten on 57, the hosts are still 61 runs short of Saurashtra’s first-innings total of 404, and with both Saurashtra left-arm pace bowlers breathing fire, Unadkat’s side could well wrap up the game on Sunday.
Bengal’s pace-heavy attack looked ineffective in the morning as Saurashtra, continuing from where they had left on Friday evening — 317/5 — added 87 more runs to take their score past 400.
Though overnight batters Arpit Vasavada (81) and Chirag Jani (60) perished quickly, tail-enders Prerak Mankad (33) and Dharmendrasinh Jadeja (29) gave Saurashtra the winning edge. To add to Bengal’s woes, they gave away 35 extras.
Coming in to bat in the second innings, Bengal had a harrowing start with the pace duo of Sakariya (2/50) and Unadkat (2/47) rattling the top order to reduce them to 47/3 in the post-lunch session.
Still trailing by 183 runs, an innings defeat loomed large when the veteran duo of Anustup Majumdar (61) and Tiwary came together and gave the 1,000-odd fans some hope with their 99-run partnership.
At close, Shahbaz Ahmed (13 batting) was giving Tiwary company at the crease.
Bengal can only hope for a magical turnaround in quest of their maiden Ranji Trophy title in 32 years.
The onus is on Tiwary and Shahbaz, the last recognised batting pair for Bengal, to make an improbable turnaround.
Earlier pace bowler Mukesh Kumar emerged the most successful Bengal bowler on Saturday, finishing with figures of 4/111 and getting rid of both well-set overnight batters Vasavada and Jani.
Having managed just three wickets on Friday, the much-vaunted Bengal attack wrapped up Saurashtra’s last five wickets in two hours and six minutes in the first session on Saturday. But it seemed too little, too late as the host bowlers had allowed Saurashtra to take their score past 400.
Vasavada failed to add to his overnight total of 81 and nicked an away-going delivery. Jani was dismissed when Mukesh got the ball to swing away after pitching. The ball made a feather-touch contact with Jani’s bat and sailed to the wicketkeeper.
Akash Deep hit the deck hard to bounce out Prerak Mankad with a ball that sharply cut back in and clipped the batter’s gloves.
He got his third wicket, dismissing Unadkat (4) cheaply. But from 369/9, Saurashtra raced to 404 with their last pair of Parth Bhut (14 not out) and Dharmendrasinh Jadeja (29) frustrating the Bengal bowlers.
Pressed into the opener’s role, Bengal debutant Sumanta Gupta showed he still has a lot of work to do, as he poked at a Sakariya delivery to be caught in the slip cordon.
Bengal’s biggest letdown was India A regular Abhimanyu Easwaran (12) whose horror show with the bat continued, done in by a length delivery that swung away.
Bengal’s crisis man Anustup Majumdar looked in control and soaked up the pressure. But Unadkat dismissed the veteran cricketer when he chased an away-going delivery to be caught at gully.
Tiwary and Shahbaz then survived some anxious moments to keep the faint hopes alive.
Saurashtra had won their maiden Ranji Trophy title beating Bengal three years ago at Rajkot.
Bengal 174 and 169/4; 52.5 overs (Anustup Majumdar 61, Manoj Tiwary 57 batting). Saurashtra 404; 110 overs (Arpit Vasavada 81, Chirag Jani 60, Sheldon Jackson 59, Harvik Desai 50; Mukesh Kumar 4/111, Akash Deep 3/111, Ishan Porel 3/86). Bengal trail by 61 runs.
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)