Balaji and Vijay take TN to semis
Tamil Nadu 306 (Kumar 75) and 227 for 2 (Badrinath 92*, Vijay 73) beat Bengal 345 (Tiwary 144, Ganapathy 5-59) and 187 (Balaji 6-24) by eight wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out
Tamil Nadu were behind for three days of this contest but, on the fourth, executed a perfect one-two sucker punch to beat Bengal and enter the Ranji semis. In the morning, L Balaji ripped through the Bengal lower order, taking five wickets for seven runs; that quick burst gave Tamil Nadu the time to chase 227 in a minimum of 68 overs. M Vijay showed up the pitch for what it truly was, scoring a quickfire 73 with utmost ease to set up Tamil Nadu's chase, and S Badrinath's unbeaten 92 completed the victory.
In many ways this was a contest between Manoj Tiwary and Balaji. Tiwary rallied Bengal from a poor start on the first day and went on to score a big hundred but Balaji pulled a googly out of the hat to deceive him and keep Bengal from reaching a huge score. When Tamil Nadu batted and looked like they would get the lead, Tiwary produced a superlative catch to make a crucial breakthrough. Balaji then did his bit with the bat to bring the deficit down to 39. Tiwary again scored 42 and kept the bowlers at bay but Balaji had the last laugh on the final day, bowling accurately and getting the ball to nip around enough to wipe the tail off in a hurry. Balaji's efforts spoke for itself: 20-11-24-6, and figures of 8-5-7-5 today, his best spell since returning to first-class cricket this season.
Bengal started the day 173 in front, needing to bat out one session to secure their semi-final berth. The biggest wicket was going to be that of Laxmi Ratan Shukla, who had looked good for his 43 yesterday. The biggest wicket was also the first of the day, Balaji extracting a couple of inches of extra bounce and getting Shukla, who was looking to pull out of the shot, to glove the ball. Ritam Kundu, with a resolute 21 off 55 deliveries, got a vicious outswinger. Balaji went wide of the crease, angled one in, making Kundu play down the line of middle-stump, and got it to leave him and send the off stump cartwheeling.
Flying stumps reinvigorate bowlers, and they had the same effect on Balaji. His next victim was Arindam Das, who couldn't open yesterday because of an upset stomach and came in to bat at No. 7. Das left a gap between bat and pad and Balaji went through it to get his third wicket in nine deliveries. Rohan Banerjee, the other opener taken ill, came in at No. 8, and with Sourav Sarkar resisted for a while. Balaji took an over's break after a seven-over spell, and he proved too good for Sarkar in his first over on return. Three balls later, he sent back Ashok Dinda, who went for a horrendous pull, which landed in S Vidyut's hands next to the non-striker. Bengal finished their ordeal with a silly run-out, which has been a feature of this match. Ranadeb Bose ran for a single to short fine leg, but was simply not quick enough to reach in time, leaving Banerjee stranded on 9.
Bengal's collapse made 227 look a tricky target on the last day but that had more to do with Balaji's bowling and their inept batting than the pitch, which still was a batting beauty. Vijay proved just that with some entertaining batting. He started with a square-driven boundary off the fourth ball he faced and provided an exhibition of cover drives. He took both Bose and Dinda to the cleaners, bringing up the team's fifty in the 11th over.
Bengal looked to attack, keeping the fields up, and Vijay capitalised on them fully with the cleanest hitting in the match since Tiwary's hundred in the first innings. When Abhinav Mukund, his opening partner, got out for 31, he had already reached his half-century - off 57 deliveries - with trademark cover drives and a six off Dinda after walking down the track.
By the time Vijay was out for 73, Bengal were already a demoralised side and were 105 runs short of being knocked out. Badrinath had a shaky start, but recovered well and helped himself to an unbeaten 92 as Tamil Nadu finished their second comeback-from-behind victory this season. They had conceded the lead in their game against Baroda as well and it was their batsmen who brought them back that time.
Tamil Nadu showed great character in this match, but spare a thought for Tiwary and Bose, who gave their best in their first match against top-flight opposition this season.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo