Sudip Chatterjee and Wriddhiman Saha were locked in an intense mid-pitch conversation as Samad Fallah, adjusted his mane at the top of the bowling mark. Bengal 128 for three, had weathered the first session reasonably well. Resuming on 16 for one, a massive 325 runs behind, Bengal had lost a couple of wickets in the morning session, adding 105 runs to the total.
The 22-year-old Chatterjee, had shown impressive resolve and discipline, putting out a good front foot stride and also leaving anything pitched on the fourth and fifth stump. This approach, though radically different from one the Bengal batters employed in the first innings, seemed to have borne fruit.
Playing on 49, Chatterjee pumped his partner’s fist and turned to take guard. The 28-year-old Fallah, who had a nondescript 12-over spell behind him, hollered out instructions, directing skipper, Rohit Motwani, to add a short-leg.
Field set, Fallah bustled in. The ball pitched on off-stump cut sharply into the southpaw’s body, surprising him.
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Chatterjee’s confused prod, resulted in an inside edge flying over the stumps. With Fallah’s hands already up in celebration, the ball popped out of Motwani’s gloves.
However, it was clear as Fallah walked back to his mark, that he had managed to insert a seed of doubt into Chatterjee’s mind.
Next ball, full, swinging away and Chatterjee, who had left so well throughout the morning, was fractionally late. Maybe the previous delivery was to blame, but Chatterjee’s delay in lifting his bat to allow the ball to pass through, saw the ball taking a faint edge and this time nestle safely into the keeper’s gloves.
Fallah has acquired some amazing skills having bowled on belters for a better part of his career. In addition to swinging the ball both ways, the 28-year-old cuts the ball off the seam, which often gives him an advantage with the older ball along with an ability to reverse the ball.
Fallah was dropped from the side midway through the season. But what a return to form he has had. His 10 wickets in the semifinal, including seven in the first innings, helped Maharashtra reach their first final in over two decades. Their last shot at the Ranji Trophy title came in 1992-93 when were second-best to Punjab.
Having troubled Chatterjee with the cutter first up, the conventional out-swinger, pitched perfectly, gave the long-haired speedster his 200th First-Class wicket. The wicket affording him entry into a select crop of Maharashtra bowlers who have passed the milestone.
Chatterjee’s wicket seemed to have had an impact on the collective morale of the Bengal team. Three overs later, Dominic Muthuswamy, who showed superb discipline plugging one end up while bowling to an off-side field without erring, dismantled Bengal skipper Lakshmi Shukla’s stumps. Shukla, the highest run-scorer for Bengal this season returned with 10 runs beside his name.
Three overs later, Sandipan Das fished at a Anupam Sanklecha delivery outside off-stump, giving Motwani another simple catch.
Two more Bengal batsmen returned not too long after, and Maharashtra looked to wrap things up, with Ashoke Dinda and Shib Paul to come. It was then that things briefly took a different path. Saurav Sarkar, the eighth wicket to fall, departed with the score at 233 with Saha playing on 38.
When the last wicket fell 14 overs later, Bengal were 348 with Saha on 108. He shared two fifty-run partnerships with both tail-enders who seemed to be making merry, clouting the ball to all corners of the Holkar stadium. Saha got to his eighth First Class hundred with a meaty drive through the off-side but that was Bengal’s only bright spot. Maharashtra knocked off the required eight runs.
Brief Scores: Bengal 114 and 348 all out (W Saha 108, S Chatterjee 49; D Muthuswamy 3/80, A Sanklecha 3/84, S Fallah 3/100) lost to Maharashtra 455 and 8 for no loss (H Khadiwale 8 n.o)