Bengal head to the finals
Baroda 241 and 252 for 8 (Williams 135*, Singh 4-66) drew withBengal 617
A face-saving hundred from Connor Williams delayed the inevitable as Bengal drew with Baroda and made their way into the Ranji Trophy finals for the first time since the 1993-94 season. Resuming the day 277 runs behind Bengal, Baroda struggled against Shibsagar Singh's slow left-arm spin and lost a brace of wickets either side of lunch, and had it not been for Williams's valiant effort, Bengal would have progressed into the finals with another win to their names. Special mention must be given to Shekhar Joshi, however, who faced 100 deliveries without scoring a run in a 47-run stand for the ninth wicket that saved Baroda further blushes.
Baroda, 101 for 2 overnight, lost Jacob Martin, their captain, and Yusuf Pathan in the morning session. Martin was the first wicket of the day, caught by Abhishek Jhunjhunwala off the bowling of Ranadeb Bose, Bengal's opening bowler. Pathan followed three overs later, snapped up by the same fielder off Singh.
Following this dismissal, Singh continued to weave a web around the Baroda middle order on a pitch that had proved futile for wicket-taking over the past three days. Ajit Bhoite, Rajesh Pawar and Kiran Powar all perished to catches around the bat, and when even Manoj Tiwary, with all of two first-class wickets to his name, picked up Rakesh Patel with his gentle legbreaks, the verdict was out on which team had failed to live up to expectations.
By tea, Baroda had inched their way to 223 for 8, Williams having just brought up his 11th first-class hundred. It was a valiant attempt from a veteran who stroked his way past 500 runs this season and was Baroda's highest run scorer. Grafting his way around a tight bowling line and doing his best to command the strike, Williams was a lone crusader in an attempt to salvage a semblance of pride. Or stave off a heavy defeat, at any rate.
It was a disappointing match for Baroda, a team that rode high on their batting throughout the season and emerged undefeated heading into this match. It was even argued that home advantage notwithstanding, the pressure was on Bengal to tame the Elite Group B champions. Tame them they did, and how. Where Bengal batted with ease - and even brutality, on occasion - Baroda's batsmen were left dumbfounded against Singh's innocuous drifters. It could be argued that the pressure of a looming defeat took its toll, but seeing the ease with which Baroda capitulated it is easier to say that Bengal were just a far superior team.
Speaking to The Telegraph in Kolkata after the match, Deep Dasgtupa, Bengal's captain, said it had been been 'a dream come true'. "We Bengalis by nature are emotional. There's very little to be proud of except for Sourav Ganguly and a few other things... I'm happy that this achievement will bring happiness to so many people," he said. "A little while ago, an unknown congratulated and wished me. Nothing can match this feeling," For the moment, Dasgupta can lay claim to leading a strong side into the finals after more than a decade. But up against a resurgent Mohammad Kaif-led Uttar Pradesh at home, Bengal will know that the battle has just begun.