The game was meandering along when Manoj Tiwary grabbed it by the scruff of the neck. Thanks to his 37-ball 52 not out, Bengal finished the third day of this Ranji Trophy Group A fixture at Eden Gardens on 216 for three — an overall lead of 288 runs against Jammu and Kashmir. They can now throw the kitchen sink on the final day.
The hosts had moved to 126 for the loss of opener Arindam Das’ wicket (60) in their second innings when Tiwary came to bat. Ninety runs were added in the next 12.3 overs that took Bengal to a winning position. The middle-order batsman, promoted to No. 3 on Thursday, unleashed an array of strokes, from reverse sweeps to ramp and lap, to unsettle Parvez Rasool and Co. Sudip Chatterjee (29 of 21 balls) supported him well at the other end.
Bengal need an outright win here to be in contention for the knockout stage. To achieve that they need to be proactive. The team management, however, appeared a little hesitant to take the risks. “The pitch is still good for batting and 300 is gettable in the fourth innings. We don’t want to lose three points by being indiscreet. We’ve to stretch our lead to 350-plus before we declare,” coach Ashok Malhotra said.
The safety first approach means Bengal will get less than three sessions to take 10 J&K wickets. Tough ask on this pitch. Tiwary backed the team decision. At the same time, he said: “Different people have different perspectives. The team management has taken the decision to extend the lead and we stick with that.” About his innings, he commented: “The situation demanded quick runs so I tried to up the ante. But personally I feel the innings (63) against Mumbai was better.”
Earlier, resuming on overnight 183 for five, J&K lost Subham Pundir on the second ball of the day. Ashok Dinda’s delivery, from around the wicket, came in with the angle and went through the gate.
Then Aamir Aziz got out with his team still 38 runs shy of saving the follow-on. But Bandeep Singh and Ram Dayal (looking very organised for a tail-ender) dug in their heels. Both batted well and added 90 runs for the eighth wicket to frustrate the hosts. Once again, Tiwary had to intervene to save the situation — this time with his part-time leg-spin.
He accounted for Singh with a faster one that kept low. The batsman went for a pull but was unlucky to be undone by the lack of bounce.
Tiwary’s second wicket, too, was a leg before. Mohammed Mudhasir played down the wrong line and was caught plumb in front. J&K were all out for 315, conceding a 72-run first innings lead to Bengal. The hosts were slow to build on that until Tiwary arrived and changed the game.
Brief scores: Bengal 387 & 216/3 in 44 overs (A Easwaran 63, A Das 60, M Tiwary 52*). Jammu & Kashmir 315 in 112.5 overs (B Singh 73, R Dayal 62*; Ashok Dinda 3/102).