Kolkata, Feb 2 (PTI): Bengal are on course to their third successive Ranji Trophy semifinal appearance after Shahbaz Ahmed produced yet another sparkling all-round show to put them in the driver’s seat on the third day of their quarterfinal match against Jharkhand here on Thursday.
Batting at No. 6, left-hander Ahmed top-scored with a gritty 81 off 120 balls (9×4, 2×6) as Bengal posted 328 in their first innings to secure a healthy first innings lead of 155 runs.
At stumps on Day 3, Jharkhand were ahead by just seven runs, with their second innings in disarray at 162 for 7. A total of 11 wickets tumbled on day three.
The lower order Jharkhand batters are now left battling to delay the inevitable with two more days left in the game.
Ahmed, the left-arm spin bowling all-rounder, also made an impact with the ball, dismissing Anukul Roy (40) and Jharkhand skipper Virat Singh (29) in their second innings.
Opener Aryaman Sen waged a lone battle for Jharkhand with a fighting half century (64 off 132 balls) but Ishan Porel brilliantly set him up with a bouncer and dismissed him at the fag-end of the day.
It was a total batting failure for Jharkhand as only three batters managed double digit figures with Aryaman stitching two fifty-plus stands with Anukul Roy and then with Singh.
The match could have been over on day three itself had it not been for Bengal’s sloppy catching as they dropped three sitters, including two by skipper Tiwary, all off the bowling of Ahmed who finished the day with bowling figures of 12-2-38-2.
Shahbaz Nadeem was unbeaten on 4 off 13 deliveries, smashing Porel through cover boundary that handed Jharkhand a small overall lead. Giving him company at stumps was Supriyo Chakraborty on five off 19 balls.
It also meant that Jharkhand avoided an innings defeat but they were left to fight two more days with Rahul Shukla and Ashish Kumar next in line to bat.
Earlier, resuming the day on 238 for 5, Bengal lost their keeper-batter Abishek Porel (33) with just eight runs added to his overnight total.
The left-hander, who was looking fluent, suddenly lost his concentration and was caught behind after going for a loose shot.
The other overnight batter Shahbaz, however, did not put a foot wrong and played an attacking innings en route to his 10th fifty.
Bengal would have liked to swell their lead a bit more but Akash Deep failed to produce his lower order fireworks and was run-out after being involved in a mix-up with Ahmed.
“Our bowlers fought well. But we need to stick to our plans and get them out early and chase it down. Anything is possible in cricket, so we have to be at the top of our game tomorrow,” Bengal coach Laxmi Ratan Shukla said.
A repeat of last season’s semifinal between Bengal and Madhya Pradesh could be on the cards if the latter beat Andhra in Indore.
Bengal have earlier reached semifinals thrice from five seasons. They reached the final in 2019-20 where they lost to Saurashtra. The 2020-21 Ranji season was abandoned due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Jharkhand: 173 and 162 for 7 in 48 overs (Aryaman Sen 64, Anukul Roy 40; Akash Deep 2/25, Akash Ghatak 2/19, Shahbaz Ahmed 2/38).
Bengal: 328 in 108 overs (Shahbaz Ahmed 81, Abhimanyu Easwaran 77, Sudip Gharami 68, Abishek Porel 33; Ashish Kumar 3/89, Rahul Shukla 2/65, Supriyo Chakraborty 2/87). Jharkhand lead by seven runs.