Shah ton gives Mumbai advantage
Bengal 201 (Arindam 98, Tiwary 39, Chavan 4-61) and 47 for 0 trail Mumbai 297 (Jaffer 80, Nayar 62, Tare 38, Shukla 5-38, Saxena 4-105) and 294 for 5 dec (Shah 118, Nayar 73*) by 344 runs
During a Ranji season in which Ravindra Jadeja has hit the headlines with another triple-century, Jiwanjot Singh has had a dream debut and a couple of players on the fringes of the Indian Test side have drawn the most interest, Hiken Shah has quietly gone about developing an insatiable appetite for runs. His nought in the first innings was a striking aberration in a prolific season, and his century today, which helped Mumbai set Bengal a stiff target, was his third in as many games.
Mumbai gave themselves a good shot at a first outright win this season, declaring more than an hour before stumps with a whole day to play. The narrow gap in points between themselves and six other teams in their group, and a winless tournament thus far, has infused their campaign with some urgency, prompting them to declare instead of batting out and collecting three points. Bengal are desperate for a win themselves, after having lost two, and it'll be interesting to see if they press for victory at the risk of forsaking a point should they lose.
Manoj Tiwary, the Bengal captain, said it was important the openers Rohan Banerjee and Arindam Das continue to bat positively on the third morning, as they had done in the final hour when they took their team to 47 without loss at stumps. "These guys are playing well, [taking advantage of] loose balls," Tiwary said. "The wicket has eased out and if we continue the good start till lunch, we can see that their guys can be defensive in the field as well. And if I step out onto the field then, even I can take that decision on what to do."
Mumbai began the day with a lead of 102 and they initially progressed cautiously, as the Bengal seamers probed them often, beating the edge, with the ball nipping off the pitch. It didn't do much when Wasim Jaffer shouldered arms to Shami Ahmed early in the day, however, and the ball just clipped the bails. His opening partner Kaustubh Pawar was well set but fell when part-time offspinner Abhishek Jhunjhunwala was introduced into the attack, driving him straight to midwicket. Rohit Sharma continued to have a poor game with the bat, failing to capitalise on a reprieve at slip first ball to be bowled, at the stroke of lunch, through the gate while reaching out to defend an incoming delivery from Laxmi Shukla.
Shah was well set by then, and Tiwary's persistence with Jhunjhunwala, with a spread-out field that included five fielders in the deep, made the batsman's job much easier. He went on to add 158 runs with Abhishek Nayar, and in quick time, thus setting the platform for a formidable lead, but he had a couple of close shaves along the way. There was an edge between the keeper and slip and a big appeal for lbw from Shukla that was turned down, prompting a discussion between Tiwary and the umpire.
Shah, who said he devoted some time to doing yoga during the off-season to prepare himself mentally, was harsh on anything short outside off and there was plenty of that from Jhunjhunwala, who was repeatedly cut through point. The first ball after lunch was crashed through extra cover, and he brought up his half-century by slashing seamer Veer Pratap Singh past point. Singles were readily available for Shah and Nayar with a defensive field, and they still managed to find the boundary to score at over four an over before tea, adding 119 in that wicketless session.
Both scored off Veer Pratap, down the ground and through the off side, and stepped up further when they began to sweep and reverse sweep Jhunjhunwala. Nayar reached his half-century with a flat six over square leg before tea, and Hiken did an AB de Villiers to reach his fifth first-class ton shortly after the break, reverse-paddling Jhunjhunwala for a boundary behind point. In a spell that yielded 92 in 14 runs, Jhunjhunwala was smacked over midwicket for another four by Hiken before the batsman finally fell for 118. His scores this domestic season before this knock, across all cricket, were 105, 105, 107, 92, 140, 156, and 0.
Mumbai wicketkeeper Aditya Tare walked in and smacked the ball around for 19 runs, and his team declared immediately after he holed out. The Bengal openers had been separated in the first innings by a run-out. They were solid on the third evening, enduring some nervous moments when the odd ball kept low or beat the bat, but were largely secure. Bengal have depth in their batting and the final day promises to be a test of their determination to revive a disappointing run wrought by several missed opportunities.
Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo