Patient Madhya Pradesh set up solid base
Madhya Pradesh 254 for 4 (Shrivastava 65, Naman 64, Harpreet 51*) v Bengal
Madhya Pradesh's batsmen harvested the benefits of a patient approach in the morning and some inconsistent bowling to close out the day as the happier team after Bengal had invited them to bat. Half-centuries from Aditya Shrivastava, Naman Ojha and Harpreet Singh were responsible for Madhya Pradesh setting up a sturdy base for a big score.
Madhya Pradesh nearly gave it away in the second session when Naman and Shrivastava fell in quick succession after a 102-run stand for the third wicket. But Harpreet and captain Devendra Bundela (42*), despite their slightly unconvincing beginning, were alert to scoring opportunities after the pitch dried out and became quicker and put on an unbroken stand of 92 runs.
Manoj Tiwary had suggested on Tuesday that batting first was a no-brainer on the Brabourne pitch. Whether intended or otherwise it turned out to be a red herring as he eventually opted to bowl on a pitch that had a moderate distribution of grass. His decision received an early endorsement when Veer Pratap Singh removed opener Jalaj Saxena in the third over. While Bengal's seamers tried to leverage what was on offer - despite the morning freshness there wasn't any exaggerated movement, but there was decent carry - Madhya Pradesh didn't hit back with anything flashy.
Opener Shrivastava and Rajat Patidar, a pair of 22-year-olds who have begun their careers promisingly, adopted a conservative response, and fully neutralised any assistance the bowlers were getting. Runs weren't a priority in the morning as they managed a mere eight from overs 10 to 20, playing out five maidens in the process. As it happens at times, Madhya Pradesh found their release through Patidar's dismissal. Seamer Sayan Mondal, whose action culminates much like that of Shane Watson's, had him bowled with his third ball, and brought Naman to the crease.
Naman's arrival brought about a slight revision in strategy, and with Shrivastava finding his bearings as well, Madhya Pradesh latched onto scoring opportunities more often. While Tiwary had a cluster of catching men on the off side to Naman - at one point he had a silly mid-off, short cover, extra cover and mid-off apart from two slips - he still coaxed the ball through the gaps. Whenever Tiwary opened up some space on the off side with a sweeper cover in position, Naman and Shrivastava ensured the fielder was made to sprint to either side.
Ashok Dinda was locked in an interesting one-on-one tussle with Naman. After his ploy of getting the ball to tail in late was repeatedly met by Ojha with a dead bat or a firmer push down the ground, he resorted to short-pitched stuff. While his bowling was now visibly quicker, the pitch was slow enough for the batsman to either duck under or dead-bat the deliveries. However, just when Madhya Pradesh looked set to convert their incremental gains into something more imposing, Shrivastava fell to an innocuous delivery from Pragyan Ojha, whose length was always a touch too short. Naman went soon after as his lazy waft to Veer Pratap Singh, whose lines were fairly consistent, was snapped up at first slip. Therafter, Bundela and Harpreet made sure Madhya Pradesh built on the morning gains.
Bengal coach Sairaj Bahutule defended the decision to bowl first and conceded his bowlers could have done better. According to him, despite some good bowling in patches their lines helped the batsmen get away with leaving the ball frequently in the morning. Shrivastava said Madhya Pradesh would have bowled first as well on what he called a "damp pitch." He said the ploy of wearing the bowlers down in the first session was necessary because scoring shots were hampered by the movement off the pitch.
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo