Wriddhiman Saha’s gutsy century went in vain as Maharashtra crushed Bengal by 10 wickets to enter the final of the Ranji Trophy after a gap of two decades.
Maharashtra will take on the winner of the other ongoing semi-final between Karnataka and Punjab. Maharashtra last played in the Ranji Trophy final in the 1992-93 season where they lost to Punjab.
After a batting collapse in the first innings, Bengal put up a relatively better show in the second essay courtesy Wriddhiman’s unbeaten 108 as they scored 348 managing to avert the ignominy of innings defeat.
Harshad Khadiwale knocked off the required eight runs in two overs on the third day as Maharashtra continued their dream run in the national championship entering the summit clash from Group C.
Still it was a dominant performance by the Surendra Bhave coached side that finished the game inside three days having beaten heavyweights Mumbai well inside four days.
Left-arm seamer Samad Fallah (3/110) claimed three in the second innings to complete a match-haul of 10 wickets, while Dominic Joseph (3/80) and Anupam Sanklecha (3/84) also shared the spoils.
On the third day, the question was how long Maharashtra will take to dismiss Bengal for the second time rather than any imminent chance of a miracle.
The match went along the expected lined despite Saha’s impressive effort that came off 146 balls. Saha hit 15 fours and a couple of sixes off left-arm spinner Akshay Darekar as he completed his eighth first-class century with a picture perfect straight drive off Joseph.
Saha was able to complete his century with some good effort from the tail-enders Sourav Sarkar (35), Ashoke Dinda (25) and Shib Shankar Paul (13). The eighth, ninth and 10th wicket partnerships yielded 45, 62 and 53 runs, respectively.
Although he is not expected to play any part in the New Zealand Test series, the century would definitely keep him in high spirits as he leaves for New Zealand with the other Test specialists like Cheteshwar Pujara and Zaheer Khan in a week’s time.
However, it was the same old story from the other end as none of the batsmen save left-hander Sudip Chatterjee (49, 92 balls, 9×4) contributed enough.
Likes of Arindam Das (34), Abhimanyu Easwaran (6) and Sandipan Das (12) failed consistently in the past few games as Bengal managed to cross 400-run mark only once this season.
It was due to herculean effort from skipper LR Shukla (608 runs and 12 wickets) and wickets on ‘green-tops’ from Dinda (40 wickets) that helped Bengal reach this far. Others have had minuscule contribution in the team’s journey so far.
On the other hand, Maharashtra have put up a stunning performance since Bhave took over from Englishman Dermot Reeve under whom the team had got relegated to the group C in the last season.
With the likes of Kedar Jadhav, Harshad Khadiwale, Vijay Zol, Ankit Bawne and Sangram Atitkar scoring tons of runs, it became easier for the likes of Fallah, Sanklecha and Shrikant Mundhe (injured in this game) to attack the opposition with runs on board.
Their best win will certainly be against Mumbai, whom they defeated by eight wickets chasing a 250-plus score after conceding a first innings lead in excess of 120.