Toss was the main culprit - Shukla
Laxmi Ratan Shukla, the Bengal captain, has said the Holkar Stadium pitch, and consequently the toss, played an inordinate role in the result of the semifinal, which Maharashtra won by 10 wickets inside three days.
"I think, very openly and very personally, the toss is the main culprit," Shukla said after the match. "The history here is such that whoever wins the toss wins the match. That was bad luck for us, losing the toss. But they [Maharashtra] played well, there's no doubt about it."
On day one, when Maharashtra won the toss and bowled Bengal out for 114, the pitch was offering the seamers both movement and lift. Maharashtra, though, still had more than half the first day to negotiate when they began their reply. They weathered that period - helped by inaccurate first spells from Ashok Dinda and Sourav Sarkar - and eventually scored 455.
Sangram Atitkar and Ankit Bawne, whose 113-run sixth-wicket partnership swung the match decisively Maharashtra's way, both said the ball had moved around throughout their time at the crease. The life in the pitch became apparent again when Maharashtra's seamers reduced Bengal to 188 for 7 in the second innings. But Bengal's last three wickets still managed to clout 160 in just 117 balls to avert an innings defeat.
Despite this, Shukla maintained the pitch wasn't the ideal one for a semifinal. "In a Ranji Trophy semifinal if you get a better pitch you'll get a five-day game," he said. "It's my personal opinion that the toss should not be a big factor. The Ranji Trophy is such a big event, and this is a big match - people have come from far, you journalists have come to cover the match - nobody likes it if the match is over in three days. I think there should be a sporting wicket, a natural one. I felt this was an unnatural one."
Asked how he defined an unnatural pitch, considering Bengal had prepared a greentop for their final home match of the group stage, Shukla said it came down to the hardness of the surface underneath the grass.
"I agree we also played on greentops in Kolkata, but they were not like this," he said. "The wicket was hard there, this one looks sloppy. You've been here from the first day, it was unplayable."
Shukla conceded, though, that Maharashtra's bowlers had exploited the conditions - and their batsmen weathered them - better than those in his team. But the toss, he said, still played too big a role.
"Obviously they played 100 or 1000 times better than us, there's no doubt about it," he said. "But if I had won the toss, then who knows, maybe the same thing would have happened to them. But I don't have any complaints. I'm not saying this with ill-will."
Surendra Bhave, Maharashtra's coach, said it was no guarantee that his seamers would have bowled Bengal out cheaply after winning the toss.
"To bowl them out for 114 on this wicket - yes, seaming track and our bowlers are bowling well - but everything has to click to bowl the opposition out for 114, "Bhave said. "When you get tracks like those, the first group of players who need to prepare themselves is actually batters. Toss is always a 50-50 thing, and you could be batting first on a pitch like this, so we had prepared both ways, and we had said that maybe first session, and one more hour, it will still be seaming. We have to buy time if we bat first.
"Bowling first, whenever we have, we have always taken three to four wickets till lunch, and that keeps on happening, so obviously the bowling discipline and catching is working."
Asked how his seamers were able to exploit the conditions better than Bengal's, Bhave said the skill-base of his three pace bowlers was "at par with any team in India right now."
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo