Bowlers keep Bengal on top
Services 261 for 6 (Tiwary 71, Swain 56*, Dinda 3-75) trail Bengal 431 by 170 runs
Bengal are looking for yet another three points after the bowlers toiled manfully on a lifeless track to reduce Services to 261 for 6 at stumps on the third day in Palam.
The possibility of Bengal getting the final four wickets looks more realistic than Services getting 171 runs to claim the lead with Soumya Swain (56*) being the only established batsman standing, going into the final day.
For Bengal, Ashoke Dinda picked up 3 for 75 in 24 overs, but motivation was hard to come by on a track where some of the bouncers were gathered by wicketkeeper at an ankle height. Off-spinner Saurashish Lahiri capped his first-innings century with two crucial wickets of Yashpal Singh (11) and Vishnu Tiwari (71).
The highlight of the Services innings was a 131-run partnership for the sixth wicket between Tiwary and Swain. The duo batted for nearly 40 overs to frustrate the Bengal bowlers, who had reduced the home team to 123 for 5 immediately after lunch. Tiwary lasted 150 balls and hit seven fours while Swain, who batted with a hand injury, faced 175 balls hitting six fours. Tiwari was the more aggressive of the two, using the sweep shot often and to good effect against the spin duo of Lahiri and Iresh Saxena.
Having staged an impressive recovery, Tiwari tried to play a slog sweep off a Lahiri delivery that was flat and straight and was as plumb as it could get, which handed the initiative back to Bengal late in the day.
The day's play could be divided into two parts: Till an hour after the lunch session, Bengal were in complete command on a pitch that had nothing for the bowlers. The turn on offer was very slow, the edges were not carrying to the slip cordon but Dinda and Shib Paul plugged away like workhorses.
Pratik Desai and Anshul Gupta added 65 for the first wicket before Dinda struck with a short ball outside off. Anshul jabbed at it and the resulting lob was pouched by Anustup Majumdar at gully. Desai was in an aggressive mood, striking eight fours in his half-century, but was lucky to survive when Rohan Banerjee at second slip dropped a dolly off Paul's bowling. As if to celebrate the reprieve, Desai drove the bowler through covers soon after.
But an eventful over from Dinda - the 21st of the innings - brought about Desai's end. The first ball was pulled by Desai to mid-wicket boundary. Dinda followed it up with a fuller length and Desai's drive bisected the slip cordon and sped to the boundary to signal his fifty. An angry Dinda then followed it up with another bouncer which Desai tried to hook and the skier was collected by Paul at short fine leg.
Nakul Verma didn't stay long at the wicket as his nervous prod was snapped up by Majumdar at silly point. At 89 for 3, Services's two best batsmen Rajat Paliwal (25) and Yashpal Singh (11) batted for the next 10 overs before an inspirational piece of stumping from Wriddhiman Saha saw the back of Yashpal.
Lahiri invited Yashpal to go for a drive but the batsman had misread the length and in the process lost balance of his back leg. Saha whipped the bails off in a flash as Services went into lunch at 122 for 4. Just after lunch, Dinda swayed away from his usual short-full ploy as he got one to pitched on middle and move a shade to peg back Paliwal's off-stump.
At 123 for 5, Tiwari and Swain joined hands to build a partnership that yielded positive results for the next three and half hours before one poor shot undid all the hard work.