On a bleak and quiet Sunday morning, the Maharashtra batsmen and the Bengal fielders, all swathed in jumpers, seemed to be in no mood for any frenetic activity. Bengal’s frontline pacers, Ashok Dinda, Lakshmi Ratan Shukla and Shib Paul, bowled the first 15 overs of the day, bowling outside off stump while the batsmen, Ankeet Bawne and Sangram Atitkar, were reluctant to bring their willows into play.
After bowling Bengal out for a paltry 114 in the first innings, Maharashtra were content to build on their good work, at least in the early parts of Sunday. They began Day Two 50 runs ahead with six wickets in hand and though they started slow, made up for lost time at the end to end their first innings on 455, Atitkar running up 168 of those. Chasing 341 to avoid innings defeat, Bengal were 16 for one at stumps.
Back to the listlessness then. Bengal skipper, Shukla, brought on Sandipan Das in the 16th over, hoping that Das’ dibbly-dobblies might bring about a change. Change arrived, but not the kind Shukla had hoped for. Das’ first ball, a wide half-tracker was dispatched by Bawne, overnight on 37, to the point fence and the next delivery, roused Bawne up nice and proper. He went down on one knee, sized up the length ball and hoisted it into the second tier. After that six, the score bounded along nicely. The two batsmen, stitched a 113-run stand before Bawne departed for a patient but attractive 89, surprised by a Dinda delivery, that came on faster than usual, edging to second slip.
Once Bawne was gone, Atitkar shrugged off his shackles. With the new ball coming on to the bat nicely, the 25-year-old son of a jaggery merchant from Kolhapur, unfurled his typical, watch ball hit ball game. He brought out a wide array of shots, cutting, driving and hooking on the way to his fourth first class ton.
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Pacer Anupam Sanklecha gave him company, with the eighth wicket stand yielding 103 runs at a rapid clip. With Shukla employing spinners Saurashish Lahiri and Abhimanyu Easwaran, both batters took full toll. The fielding, lax and lethargic, aided Maharashtra as the Bengal fielders repeatedly tumbled over the ball, often giving up chase midway.
Dinda and Sarkar conceded 114 and 105 runs in 30 and 27 overs respectively, with Atitkar taking a special liking to Dinda. Having got to his 150 with another solid straight thump off Lahiri, Atitkar toyed with Dinda’s studious field placement in the next over.
The India international placed a very square fine-leg, a deep square leg, a conventional square-leg and then added another deep mid-wicket. Bowling short was Dinda’s plan and short he went, but Atitkar, backed himself and bisected the field twice in succession, placing his pull-shots perfectly into the fence.
When he finally departed for 168, Maharashtra were well placed, with the lead beyond 300 and a place in the finals, an appearance after 21 years looking more and more likely.
BRIEFSCORES: Bengal 114 & 16/1 in 4.5 overs (S Fallah 1/7) vs Maharashtra 455 in 126.3 overs (A Bawne 89, S Atitkar 168, A Sanklecha 52; A Dinda 3/114, L Shukla 3/76)