Maharashtra through to first Ranji final in 21 years
Maharashtra 455 (Bawne 89, Atitkar 168) and 8 for 0 beat Bengal 114 (Fallah 7-58) and 348 (Saha 108, Fallah 3-110, Sanklecha 3-84, Joseph 3-80) by 10 wickets
Wriddhiman Saha made a defiant 108, added 160 in 117 balls with Bengal's nine, ten and jack, and left Maharashtra's seamers nursing bruised economy rates. But the day still belonged to Samad Fallah, Anupam Sanklecha, and Domnic Joseph.
Through the course of Maharashtra's first innings, the Holkar Stadium pitch seemed to have eased out entirely. But for the second time in the match, Fallah, Sanklecha and Joseph extracted considerable life out of it. Over the course of the first two sessions on the third day, they had reduced Bengal - who had begun their innings with a deficit of 341 - to 188 for 7, before Saha and the tail-enders averted innings defeat. Maharashtra, needing a mere eight runs to reach their first Ranji Trophy final in 21 years, got there in two overs.
Bengal had negotiated the morning session reasonably well to go to lunch on 116 for 3. They would have been happier, though, if Arindam Das was still at the crease. Das, who had put on 52 with Sudip Chatterjee for the third wicket, had moved to 34 when he pulled Sanklecha to Akshay Darekar at midwicket. Sanklecha had also taken the first wicket of the morning, trapping Abhimanyu Easwaran lbw with a fast, full inswinger.
The left-handed Chatterjee - who starts from a wide, Eoin Morgan-ish crouch - continued batting positively after Arindam's dismissal, driving Fallah confidently past cover before lunch and pulling him for another four soon after the interval, to move to 49. At this point, the left-arm seamer decided to come from around the wicket. In his next over, he got one to straighten a little and brush Chatterjee's inside-edge. Wicketkeeper Rohit Motwani, hurling himself to his right, dropped the catch, and added a sheepish voice to a bizarre lbw appeal from Maharashtra's fielders.
It didn't matter. Fallah angled his next ball across Chatterjee. The batsman shaped to let the ball go, decided against it, and poked at it, and Motwani gobbled up a far easier chance. It was Fallah's 200th first-class wicket.
Suddenly, the ball began to do things off the pitch. Domnic Joseph, a tall fifth-stump metronome, was getting it to keep low almost at will. He moved his line closer to the stumps, and a shooter narrowly missed Laxmi Ratan Shukla's off stump. Next ball, Joseph showed he didn't need eccentric bounce, getting the ball to cut in off the pitch and bowl Shukla through the gate.
Sanklecha, who replaced Joseph, struck immediately too, with a brute of a delivery that took off from a good length and kissed the shoulder of Sandipan Das' bat on its way to Motwani. Bengal were 163 for 6. Seven overs later, Joseph came on from the other end and trapped Saurasish Lahiri in front.
Sourav Sarkar, walking in at number nine, decided there was little to be gained by hanging around, and proceeded to clout Sanklecha over mid-on for two fours in one over. He then gave himself room to lift Fallah and left-arm spinner Akshay Darekar over the covers for two more fours. Going for another big hit off Darekar, he was caught at deep midwicket off a no-ball. Right after tea, he tried again, off a perfectly legal delivery from Darekar, and holed out to long-on.
At this point Saha - who had come in at the fall of the third wicket - had just moved into the 40s. He changed gear, smacking Sanklecha straight over his head for four and slashing Fallah over gully to reach 50. He celebrated the landmark by clubbing the next ball over the deep square leg boundary.
Ashok Dinda played with similar abandon, before Joseph had him caught-and-bowled, top-edging an attempted swat over midwicket. In walked the Falstaffian figure of Shib Paul. In the first innings, he had been bowled slogging at his first ball. Could Bengal's No. 11 take Saha from 75 to a century, and help Bengal score the 46 they needed to make Maharashtra bat again?
He could. Paul demonstrated a decent front-foot stride and a straight bat in defence, and a good eye in attack, striking three fours including a nonchalant flick, with upraised back leg, off Fallah. Saha, farming as much as he could of the strike, moved purposefully through the 80s and into the 90s. A straight six off Darekar took him to 96, and the remainder of the over brought a paddle sweep for two and a single to keep the strike.
In the next over, Saha tonked Joseph down the ground for four to bring up the century. The fielders converged for the final ball of the over. Saha spanked it past midwicket for four more to take Bengal into the lead.
It grew to seven before Darekar took the last wicket of the match, and the first by a spinner, Paul holing out to long-on. Saha was undefeated. His innings hadn't changed the fate of the semifinal, or even taken it to a fourth day, but it meant something that it had gone into a fourth innings. Bengal were without him for most of the season, and without Mohammed Shami and Manoj Tiwary for all of it. They had exceeded expectations to reach the semifinal. Now, even if it was too late, they had shown up.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo