A little over an hour into the first day of this semifinal at Indore, Maharashtra’s medium-pace bowlers emerged as clear winners against the Bengal batsman. On a lively wicket, having won the toss, the bowlers utilised the conditions well with probing deliveries on or around the off-stump.
Over after over posed questions of skill and temperament to the Bengal batsmen. Leading the charge was the experienced, stocky and skillful Samad Fallah, who was enjoying the batsmen’s discomfort as deliveries went past the outside edge.
In the 15th over, the left-arm medium-pacer demonstrated just why he is highly rated in the Maharashtra camp. He had taken both wickets to fall till that point — opener Koushil Ghosh with an out-swinger in the second over of the day, No.3 Abhimanyu Easwaran trapped lbw off the last ball of the thirteenth over.
In the first ball of his next over Fallah went wide of the crease, and shaped in a full ball to Sudip Chatterjee. The delivery straightened after pitching and thudded into the left-hander’s pad. Chatterjee’s position on the batting crease gave the umpire no option but to raise the finger.
Fallah was on a hat-trick. He now beat wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha with swing but the ball was deemed as missing the leg-stump. The next ball was slightly shorter but movement made it difficult for Saha to keep it out of his pads’ way again. The umpire was unmoved.
The next ball cut in sharply off the seam, took the inside edge and fell inches short of a diving Vijay Zol at short-leg. Saha released the pressure by clobbering one through the covers for a boundary. But Fallah’s comeback delivery was as good as any — on a good length, angled in, straightening, hurtling into the pads. Though it was Harshad Khadiwale who dismissed Saha later in the day, Fallah had won this contest. And there was more to come from the 28-year-old.
Playing his 50th First-Class match, Fallah finished with seven for 58 as Bengal were bowled out for 114.
Maharashtra finished Day One at 164 for four, leading by 50 runs. Fallah, continued to torment the batsmen by moving the ball both ways, generating movement in the air as well as off the wicket.
Lakshmi Ratan Shukla was out on the stroke of lunch as the Bengal skipper had no answer to a Fallah out-swinger, which kissed the shoulder of his bat. Bengal took lunch at 83 for five but there was to be no respite.
While the Bengal batsmen were guilty of having no intention of moving their feet, the Maharashtra bowlers, never wavered from their plan. Fallah, aided by Anupam Sanklecha and Dominic Muthuswamy, the latter replacing an injured Shrikant Mundhe, zeroed in on the spot just short of length and around the off-stump.
All three bowlers count the out-swinger as the strike option. Sanklecha and Muthuswamy finished with one wicket each, but their greater contribution was in ensuring that at all times the Bengal batsmen were under pressure by offering no poor balls. After lunch Fallah used cutters to dismiss the lower-order.
Since the 2008-09 season, Fallah’s wicket-tally had not dropped below 25.
However, this season, the spearhead was dropped from the team for non-performance after the first three matches of the season. He returned for Maharashtra’s home game against Jammu and Kashmir and since then, his figures have been impressive. He has 26 wickets in four matches, including a crucial three-wicket burst in the second innings of the quarter-final against Mumbai.
BRIEFSCORES: Bengal 114 in 41.4 ovs (A Das 37, W Saha 29; S Fallah 7/58) vs Maharashtra 164/4 in 44 ovs (C Khurana 48, K Jadhav 40; A Dinda 2/45, L Shukla 2/45)
Pun vs Kar: Rain washes out Day One