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Bengal squander strong position after Sudip 83

Bengal 269 for 7 (Sudip 83, Writtick 47, Saini 2-45, Manan 2-37) v Delhi

Bengal found themselves in positions of strength on more than one occasion but found ways to squander their advantage every time on the opening day of the semi-final against Delhi in Pune. Bengal finished the day on a wobbly 269 for 7 after electing to bat on a batting-friendly surface at the Maharashtra Cricket Association. Four of their batsmen produced solid starts without translating them into more defining contributions. The dismissals of top-scorer Sudip Chatterjee (83) and the captain Manoj Tiwary (30) to Manan Sharma's left-arm spin in the space of two overs in the last session stifled Bengal's momentum at a time when they appeared set for a sizeable first-innings total. Bengal eventually lost four wickets for 82 runs after tea.

Seamer Navdeep Saini was the standout bowler for Delhi, frequently harrying the batsmen with pace northwards of 140 kph apart from swinging the ball occasionally. He struck the first blow for Delhi when he pinged opener Abhimanyu Easwaran, who had racked up two centuries in the quarter-finals against Gujarat, in front in the fourth over. Saini pitched one up that swerved in and hit Easwaran on the back leg to leave Bengal on 8 for 1. With some confident stroke-making, though, Sudip and opener Abhishek Raman (36) ensured Delhi couldn't build on the early advantage. Even as Sudip accumulated runs with bunts and nurdles, Raman remained the smooth operator. The drives were every bit smooth as they were incisive - a brace of boundaries off a Saini over, one through extra cover and one through midwicket, were the most eye-catching of his seven fours.

While Raman survived a leg-before shout off left-arm spinner Vikas Mishra in the 17th over, he fell to the same bowler in his next over. Raman gave Mishra the charge and struck back forcefully but the bowler latched on to the return chance to end the 46-run stand. Writtick Chatterjee (47), fresh off a double century in the last match, resumed Bengal's counterattack, and along with Sudip, added 78 runs for the third wicket. Writtick flicked and pulled with ease until a little after an hour in the second session, but his promising innings was nipped by seamer Vikas Tokas, whose perseverance was finally rewarded. In the middle of an energetic spell, Tokas constantly troubled the batsmen with his in-dippers. One such delivery found Writtick's pads and the umpire rightly reckoned it would have crashed into the stumps.

In another period of rebuilding, Bengal went to tea on 187 for 3 with Tiwary and Sudip raising a half-century stand. However, in the fourth over of the last session, Tiwary dashed out of the crease to Manan but his attempted slog went only as far as mid-on. With Manan not spinning the ball much, it went with the angle and found the inside half of Tiwary's bat. Bengal were soon reduced to 209 for 5 when Manan, bowling from over the stumps, halted Sudip's quest of his 11th first-class hundred. Seeing the ball pitched short and angling away, Sudip arched back to smack it past cover, but Unmukt Chand, the substitute, anticipated the trajectory of the ball quickly and dived to his right to complete a smart catch. The substitute fielders were kept busy as Gautam Gambhir went off the field frequently.

Anustup Majumdar (32), who made three centuries in his last four innings, was living up to his form with forearm-powered whips, slog sweeps and drives. He raised 42 runs in the company of Shreevats Goswami, who might not have played the game had Wriddhiman Saha not been withdrawn with a fever. Just as when it looked like Bengal might see the day through with no further damage, Saini returned to strike with the second new ball, his 137 kph delivery beating Majumdar for pace to find the off stump. It didn't help the batsman's cause that he played inside the line of the delivery and left his off stump exposed.

Exactly five overs later, it was the turn of another Delhi seamer - Kunal Khejroliya - to reap the rewards for his hardwork through the day. Khejroliya had frequently gone over the stumps to rough up the left-hand batting pair of Goswami and B Amit. With four balls remaining for stumps, Amit backed away in a premeditated effort and guided a short-pitched delivery straight down third man's throat. In some ways, the shot mirrored the story of Bengal's innings - promising but ultimately below par.