Pacers cement Madhya Pradesh's command
Madhya Pradesh 348 & 14 for 0 lead Bengal 121 (Easwaran 48, Pandey 4-45, Datey 3-30, Sakure 3-38) by 241 runs
Madhya Pradesh's pace pack shredded Bengal's batting line-up and secured a 227-run lead in the first innings to sway the match almost decisively in their direction. Ishwar Pandey, Puneet Datey and debutant Chandrakant Sakure needed only 224 minutes to bowl out Bengal, whose slide began in the second session and eventually descended into a freefall in the third. Pandey, Datey and Sakure bowled all but two of the 45.2 overs faced by Bengal. MP chose to not enforce the follow on, and went to stumps with all their wickets in tact in their second dig.
MP's seamers had a robotic efficiency to them and the effect was amplied by their near-identical physical build and bowling style. Their lengths - neither too short nor full - were perfect on a pitch like this; Datey, in fact, bowled opener Sayan Mondal and Pankaj Shaw with deliveries that snuck in sharply and just clipped the bails. It was, however, Sudip Chatterjee's dismissal that gave MP's bowlers the incentive their toil so far had merited.
Up to that point, opener Abhimanyu Easwaran and Chatterjee pushed the team's score to 45 for 1 in 18 overs. But Chatterjee, who has been Bengal's highest run-getter this season, had a brain freeze and top-edged a pull off Sakure. Pandey, the most experienced of the seamers, crippled Bengal's innings with the wickets of captain Manoj Tiwary and Wriddhiman Saha in successive overs. While Tiwary was caught behind, Saha was adjudged lbw to an offcutter, which may have headed over the stumps.
Easwaran had played admirably until his dismissal, holding his shape when blocking rising deliveries and leaving the ones that bounced a little too much. However, Datey, much like Pandey, bowled an offcutter that caught Easwaran on the back leg. Datey bowled a similar delivery soon after to Pankaj Shaw that homed into his stumps. Bengal had slipped to 72 for 6, and it was only thanks to three dropped catches, including two from captain Devendra Bundela, they managed three figures.
Bengal's morning bore no signs of the abject slump that would ruin the rest of their day, as Harpreet Singh was removed by Ashok Dinda in the third over of the day. Dinda made the most of his good rhythm to remove Bundela soon after, but handy contributions from Ankit Dane (39), Ankit Sharma (17) and Pandey (13) - aided by some sloppy catching from Bengal - took MP close to 350, a score Bengal coach Sairaj Bahutule had reckoned on Wednesday would be ideal to restrict the opponents to. Veer Pratap Singh, who had wrapped up MP's tail, claimed his maiden five-wicket haul in first-class cricket.
Sakure later told the reporters that MP's seamers learnt from Bengal's mistakes and ensured they consistently hit the good length on a pitch that still carried help for the seamers. Bahutule on the other hand complimented MP's bowling, and said Bengal now had to try to push hard to force a result.
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo