Bengal v Karnataka, Ranji Trophy, 1st semi-final, 5th day January 27, 2007

Tiwary steers Bengal to final

Bengal 307 for 4 (Tiwary 151, Jhunjhunwala 54) beat Karnataka 89 and 455 by six wickets

Shortly before play began today, the theme song from the inspiration cricket-centric film Iqbal could be heard from the Karnataka dressing room, a sign of their confidence about the day's play; next door, the Bengal camp was quiet, the atmosphere inside tense. With 236 runs to get on a fifth-day Eden Gardens wicket, the openers gone and a place in the Ranji Trophy final at stake, the home side were up against the odds.

A little over five hours later, however, the tables had been turned as Bengal secured a convincing six-wicket victory. They now travel to Mumbai for the final, beginning next Friday, at the Wankhede Stadium.

The win had been scripted on the first day itself, when their fast bowlers ran through Karnataka for 89; today it was the turn of their batsmen, especially Manoj Tiwary, the rookie, and his stupendous unbeaten 151. Tiwary and Abhishek Jhunjhunwala, another rookie, put on 164 for the third wicket as Bengal overcame their initial nerves and eventually wrapped up the match an hour after tea.

This match had already seen some memorable performances - Ranadeb Bose's 10-wicket haul, Sourav Sarkar's supporting act with eight wickets, Karnataka's turnaround second innings scripted by Bharat Chipli, Chandrashekar Raghu and Yere Goud.

Yet it all boiled down to what would happen in the first hour of the last day, as both sides had admitted yesterday. And that's where Tiwary, starting on his overnight score of 9, stood up to be counted. In stark contrast to his usual attacking style, Tiwary chose a defensive ploy, letting the ball go when in the corridor of uncertainty. Known for his incredible bat speed and ability to play the ball late, as he has shown this season with a 660-run aggregate, Tiwary waited for the odd delivery that strayed down middle and leg.

If he was plain watchful, waiting for the odd loose ball, Jhunjhunwala was even more cautious, completely cutting down shots square of the wicket - an even greater departure from his flamboyant, elegant style.

Balachandra Akhil, the Karnataka medium pacer who'd snapped up the Bengal openers yesterday with a nagging line and length, tried to choke the batsmen of runs. But there clearly wasn't enough sting in his bowling.

Not that it was all Bengal's way. There were a few anxious moments in the first session when Vinay Kumar extracted some bounce and inward movement with the old ball to trouble Jhunjhunwala, who survived half a dozen occasions when he as completely baffled by rising off-cutters.

The unspectacular batting exposed the limited Karnataka bowling. Much depended on the spin pair of Sunil Joshi and Raghu. But while Joshi, the experienced left-hander, was played out watchfully - he couldn't get the ball to turn enough, despite sticking to line and length - the less experienced Raghu got a taste of Tewari's penchant for hitting.

Once the morning's battle was won, Tiwary, a former India Under-19 captain, decided to shake off the shackles en route to his third huge hundred of the season. Perhaps the turning point of the day came midway through the second session when one over from Srinivasa Dhananjaya, the debutant paceman, saw Tiwary hitting four successive boundaries through cover and point.

Jhunjhunwala was trapped leg-before soon after by Joshi - the 3rd wicket fell on 221 but Tiwary stepped up a gear, smashing Raghu for for 22 runs in one over that included two massive sixes over long-on. He made Karnataka pay for letting him off when on 64, 'keeper Thilak Naidu fluffing a simple stumping opportunity off Joshi.

After the match Deep Dasgupta, the Bengal captain, said he wasn't really surprised at the result. "I was confident from the start that 236 [on the final day] was always gettable, going by the way we've played throughout the season. It's inspiring the way Manoj and Abhishek batted, their partnership made all the difference, after Ranadeb and Sourav set us up so well in the first innings."

His coach Paras Mhambrey said he was satisfied with the performance but had ominous portents of the future: "There's still huge scope for improvement. Personally, I will give this Bengal team 6 marks on a scale of 10. There's much to work on still. Having said that, we are confident of putting up an impressive show in the final against Mumbai."

Venkatesh Prasad, the Karnataka coach, explained his team's tactics. "We had no option but to go for the ploy of trying to restrict runs. They needed just 236 today, so we couldn't afford to overattack and allow them to get away with easy runs. We expected a lot of help from the pitch, but it stayed consistently slow and low, and there was hardly any dangerous turn, not even for Joshi."