Saurashtra maintained their grip over the Ranji Trophy final on day three despite a fighting stand between Bengal veteran Manoj Tiwary and Sudip Chatterjee on a deteriorating pitch here on Wednesday.
Chatterjee (47 not out off 145) and Tiwary (35 off 116) took a leaf out of Cheteshwar Pujara’s book to share a gritty 89-run partnership off 226 balls after Bengal were in a spot of bother at 35 for two at lunch.
Batting is only going to get tougher on this surface with the ball keeping low right from day one, making it a steep challenge for Bengal to get past Saurashtra’s first innings total of 425.
Bengal reached 134 for three in 65 overs at close of play, trailing Saurashtra by 291 runs with Chatterjee and Wriddhiman Saha (4 off 43) in the middle.
Saurashtra, who resumed the day at 384 for eight, went on to bat for one hour and 10 minutes in the morning session to add 41 valuable runs with the last wicket pair of Jaydev Unadkat and Dharemendrasinh Jadeja producing 38 runs.
Bengal coach Arun Lal asked his players to remain optimistic and stretch the fight.
“Fight on. It was an important toss. First couple of days the wicket still played better now it is misbehaving. There is rapid wear and tear but we will fight it till the end,” Lal said.
Saurashtra coach Karsan Ghavri said, “We are doing okay at the moment. But cricket is a funny game, things can change quickly. It is not a bad wicket. Our batsmen showed it. The odd ball is keeping low. That is it.”
On day two, Pujara and Arpit Vasavada batted together for five hours to put Saurashtra in a strong position and Bengal too will have to come up with something special to stay in the game.
While Saurashtra are aiming for their maiden title, Bengal have not won Ranji Trophy since 1989-90.
The home team’s bowlers will be aiming for the stumps on day four like they did on Wednesday, hoping the pitch does the rest. Tiwary’s dismissal clearly showed how tough it has become to bat on the uneven surface.
Chirag Jani had him trapped in front of the stumps with a ball that came back in sharply at a low height and there was not much Tiwary could do about it. It was a sort of redemption for Jani, who had overstepped when Tiwary, batting on 18, played on to his stumps.
The afternoon session was a good one for Bengal as they did not lose a wicket and collected 59 runs.
Tiwary and Chatterjee provided the much needed fight back after Bengal lost their openers — debutant Sudip Kumar Gharami (26) and Abhimanyu Easwaran (9), in the morning.
Gharami, who captains Bengal U-23, showed a lot of promise before getting caught at short leg off left-arm spinner Jadeja. He looked more assured than Easwaran who ended a forgettable season with the bat.
Gharami impressed by hitting opposition skipper Unadkat for two boundaries in the same over, one coming off a flick and the other with a beautiful straight drive.
Easwaran’s fall led to the lunch break but he would consider himself a tad unfortunate to be adjudged out lbw since the ball appeared to miss the stumps.
He took the limited DRS on offer but the third umpire could not overule the on-field umpire’s call as he did not have ball tracking available, raising questions over the restrictive use of the technology.
Chatterjee too survived a close DRS call late in the day after the on-field umpire adjudged him lbw off pacer Chetan Sakariya. No run came off the bat in the last 59 balls of the final session.
Early in the morning, Bengal pacer Akash Deep took his fourth wicket by getting through the defence of Jani, who was helpless with the ball keeping really low. However, Saurashtra added 38 runs for the 10th wicket to get past 400.
Saurashtra 1st innings: 425 all out in 171.5 overs (A Vasavada 106, C Pujara 66; Akash Deep 4/98) Bengal 1st innings: 134/3 in 65 overs (S Chatterjee 47 batting, M Tiwary 35; P Mankad 1/7).