Maharashtra lead after Fallah burst
Maharashtra 164 for 4 (Khurana 48, Jadhav 40, Dinda 2-45, Shukla 2-45) lead Bengal 114 (Arindam 37, Fallah 7-58) by 50 runs
Twice before this season, Maharashtra had won the toss, sent their opponents out to bat on greentops, and rolled them over on the first day. On both those occasions - against Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh - their batsmen had backed up their bowlers' efforts by coming out and scoring 400-plus totals.
On the morning of Maharashtra's first Ranji Trophy semi-final in 17 years, the pitch at the Holkar Stadium wore an even coat of green. Rohit Motwani, their captain, won another toss. His bowlers, yet again, exploited the conditions perfectly, and bowled Bengal out in 41.4 overs. The batsmen came out and made a still lively surface and an acclaimed bowling attack look more or less manageable. Maharashtra ended the day 50 runs ahead with six wickets in hand.
On the eve of the match, his 50th in first-class cricket, Samad Fallah had reminded mediapersons that he was closing in on 200 wickets. When Saturday dawned, the left-arm seamer needed nine more to get there. When he bowled Shib Paul, Bengal's No. 11, his tally had risen to 198.
It wasn't the best day for a Bengal batsman to make his debut. Koushik Ghosh, the left-handed opener, realised this when he pushed forward at Fallah in the third over of the morning, to a ball pitched on off stump. The line forced Ghosh to play, and the away-swing produced a healthy tickle to first slip despite the fact that his bat had remained close to his body and his head more or less over the top of the ball.
Fallah changed his angle of approach frequently over the remainder of his spell, but never lost his direction. From left-arm round, wide of the crease, he swung one into the right-handed Abhimanyu Easwaran to trap him lbw. This was the last ball of his seventh over. First ball of his eighth, Fallah went over the wicket to the left-handed Sudip Chatterjee, and speared one into the blockhole for another lbw.
The last five balls of that over, all to Wriddhiman Saha, went as follows: an imploring shout for lbw and the hat-trick (close, but not given); another lbw appeal (close again); a half-steer, half-edge to third man for four; one more lbw appeal (just as loud, perhaps not as close); and an inside-edge that dropped inches in front of short leg.
Fallah bowled two more overs in that spell. At the other end, Anupam Sanklecha and Domnic Joseph were complementing him brilliantly. They didn't attack the stumps quite as much, sticking instead to a fifth-stump line, and tightened the screws on Bengal's batsmen. They took a wicket each, as did Harshad Khadiwale, who tempted Saha to flash at his gentle medium-pace and nick to wicketkeeper Motwani. In Khadiwale's previous over, Arindam Das had attempted the same shot, with almost the same result; Sangram Atitkar had dropped him at first slip.
Fallah cleaned up the rest. Extra bounce consumed Laxmi Shukla, while extravagant inswing did for Arindam - who had played an innings that contained as many plays-and-misses as elegant clips and drives. Sourav Sarkar and Paul, Nos. 9 and 11, slogged themselves out off successive deliveries, leaving Fallah on a hat-trick once more.
When Paul went, bowled heaving across the line, Ashok Dinda at the other end aimed a similar heave at nothing in particular. He had been left not out on 0 off 1 ball. Dinda channeled that frustration into his bowling, leaping higher than ever into his delivery stride, and worked up pace of a sort that none of Maharashtra's bowlers - barring Sanklecha, on occasion - had come close to producing.
Dinda's radar, however, wasn't quite right. His first ball, angled into Khadiwale's pads, was worked away for two. Four of the next five balls were similarly drawn to the batsmen's pads. Khadiwale took a single, Chirag Khurana scored a boundary and a single, Khadiwale hit another four.
That over set the tone for an opening partnership of 78. Dinda bowled too straight, his new-ball partner Sarkar bowled either too full or too short; Khurana, moving his feet decisively, drove or cut him repeatedly through the off side.
In the first over after tea, Dinda broke the partnership with another ball angled down leg, Khurana getting a tickle to the wicketkeeper. An inducker from Shukla in the next over bowled Khadiwale. Bengal sniffed a chance, and filled the air with chatter. It grew in volume when Shukla curved one into the left-handed Vijay Zol to trap him on the shuffle.
It didn't let up for the rest of the afternoon, but it didn't affect Kedar Jadhav and Ankit Bawne. Jadhav repeatedly walked out of his crease to the seamers, and struck eight crisply- timed fours - mostly whipped off his legs or driven through cover on one knee - before popping a return catch to Dinda.
Bawne was watchful outside off stump but drove assuredly whenever the ball was pitched up, and had reached 37 at stumps. With him was Motwani, batting on 8. He hadn't yet opened his account when Ghosh dropped him at gully off Dinda. It was a forgettable end to a forgettable first day for Bengal.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo