Dinda, Shukla power Bengal to position of strength
Bengal 133 for 4 (Shukla 63*, Saha 30*) lead Railways 314 (Rawat 119, Ghosh 97, Dinda 6-105) by 136 runs
The complementary styles of Bengals's strongest batting pair came to the fore on the third day as Laxmi Shukla and Wriddhiman Saha thwarted Railways to extend the hosts' lead to 136 by the end of the day. Shukla finished the day with a stroke-filled 60 off 78 balls, while Saha played a more circumspect 30 off 108.
At the end of the second day, Shukla, the Bengal captain, had spoken about the moisture on the pitch in the first hour being crucial to the side's chances, and the conditions were important for Bengal early on. Railways' overnight pair of Mahesh Rawat and Arindam Ghosh played a few glorious drives in the first few overs, but it was Shib Paul, Bengal's burly pacer, who gave his side the early wicket.
Like the second day, Paul struck in his first over, as Rawat edged an away-moving ball behind for 119. That turned the game significantly in Bengal's favour as the other pacers, Sourav Sarkar and Ashok Dinda, stepped up to do the needful. Sarkar got rid of Murali Kartik and Dinda then denied Ghosh a century, as the batsman played across the line to a ball that kept low and was adjudged lbw for 97. Dinda finally dismissed the tailenders Krishnakant Upadhyay and Ranjitkumar Mali to finish with six wickets, an achievement he celebrated with much exuberance.
Railways, however, bounced back with tenacity, led splendidly by pacer Anureet Singh, who bowled an unchanged spell of 13 - 7 - 22 - 3 from the High Court end.
Anureet was responsible for dismissing Abhimanyu Easwaran and Sudip Chatterjee - Bengal's top run-scorers in the first innings - and also got rid of Subhomoy Das, who had played a few powerful shots during his knock of 18.
Bengal were 7 for 2 in the eighth over, 40 for 4 in the 23rd and 50 for 4 going into Tea, before Shukla's aggression stemmed the slide. The Bengal batsman took a particular liking to Mali's bowling, striking two fours off the bowler before flashing the ball over deep point for a six.
Shukla's fifty came up with flick to midwicket, off 50 balls, and included seven fours and a six. At the other end, Saha consolidated the Bengal innings, eschewing unnecessary shots. Their partnership, the most crucial one for Bengal at this stage, was according to Shukla also inspired by the efforts of their bowlers, particularly Dinda.
"It was an excellent effort from Dinda. It was a fiery spell that helped Bengal make a comeback," Shukla said. "It's the kind of effort we expect from our players. In this match, Dinda, Maco (Shib Paul) and (Sourav) Sarkar put in a lot of efforts, it is for our batsmen to ensure their efforts are not in vain. Our goal tomorrow is to bat well and put up a target that is good for our bowlers. My partnership with Saha is very important and it's good that we have been able to get set."
Dinda, too, said that the complete backing of his team had helped him fulfill his responsibilities as the team's lead bowler. "He keeps telling me that I am the main bowler and he backs me. I know the team depends on me," Dinda said. "We didn't give up at any stage of the Railways innings because we knew we could take wickets."
When asked what he thought about the fact that Dinda was not a part of the national team, Shukla said: "I have stopped thinking of these things or being surprised by them. The main goal here is to do well for Bengal. Dinda has been doing this for a long period of time for Bengal and he will continue to do so."
There were a few 'chats' between the Bengal and Railways players during the day and Murali Kartik was singled out for some jeering from the stands, but Shukla said these things were a part of the game. "This is serious business, not child's play," Shukla said. "Things happen on the ground, but we don't carry it back with us."
Rachna Shetty is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo