Stumps Bengal 174 and 169 for 4 (Anustup 61, Tiwary 57*, Unadkat 2-47, Sakariya 2-50) trail Saurashtra 404 (Vasavada 81, Jani 60, Mukesh 4-111, I Porel 3-86) by 61 runs
Shahbaz Ahmed and Manoj Tiwary
, the man who faced opposition from certain quarters to include this "outsider" in their main squad four years ago, are faced with an uphill battle of keeping Bengal alive in their Ranji Trophy final at Eden Gardens.
At 169 for 4, having fought through a testing last half hour against fading light and reverse swing from Saurashtra's skilful seam attack, Tiwary and Shahbaz have ensured Bengal live to fight another day. They still trail by 61, with Tiwary unbeaten on 57 and Shahbaz 13.
Bengal would've given an arm and a leg to ensure they didn't lose Anustup Majumdar
's wicket with stumps looming, but were scuppered by Jaydev Unadkat
yet again during the course of a superb spell late on day three.
Expertly varying angles and lengths to cause just about enough confusion to someone as experienced as Majumdar, he eventually had him reaching out to drive a fullish delivery that was pouched at gully to break a 99-run stand. Majumdar's contrition was a wholesome 61, an innings full of defiance and grit for most parts, after Bengal's top order floundered yet again.
Debutant Sumanta Gupta had a forgettable game, finishing with scores of 1 and 1. Like he was dismissed in the first innings, he was out poking at an away-going Chetan Sakariya delivery that squared him up with Chirag Jani taking an excellent catch moving low to his left at second slip in the second over.
Abhimanyu Easwaran too was out in similar fashion, half-heartedly poking at a delivery that seamed away. Sudip Gharami appeared to have calmed the nerves, focusing on playing straight and playing late for a brief while before Unadkat's excellence had him nicking. In a testing spell prior to his dismissal, Gharami was challenged by deliveries that hit similar lengths and moved both ways.
Gharami played and missed some, but the one that had his name moved away appreciably after pitching and found a thick edge through to the slip cordon. At 47 for 3, Bengal were in serious danger of a total surrender. It needed their veteran captain, Tiwary, to stand tall and blunt the bowling.
Standing outside the crease to negate late movement, Tiwary shelved his typical flair to grind the bowlers even as Majumdar played himself in. As the two began to build a partnership, Saurashtra introduced spin in the form of Dharmendrasinh Jadeja in a bid to try and break the monotony. It was during this period, where both Tiwary and Majumdar cashed in by playing some delicate shots behind square to eat into the deficit slowly, before Saurashtra dealt a body blow with Majumdar's wicket.
That Bengal are still in with a chance, however slim, is because their bowlers had a much better outing on Saturday. It all began with Mukesh Kumar
removing overnight batter Arpit Vasavada with an away-going delivery off the fifth ball for 81. In a relentless first spell where he made the ball talk, he had Jani next with a delivery that left him late to kiss the edge for 60.
While Mukesh probed away, Akash Deep couldn't maintain pressure at the other end. Three cracking deliveries would invariably be followed by leg-stump half-volleys in search of late swing. The beneficiary of this was mostly Prerak Mankad, who picked off boundaries from time to time to make 33 before being the ninth man out. At 369 for 9, Bengal could've closed out the innings a lot sooner, but eventually ended up conceding 404 as the last-wicket pair of Parth Bhuth and Jadeja frustrated Bengal.
What would encourage Saurashtra was signs of variable bounce that the surface offered in the final session of play. Also, over the first three days, the fast bowlers have particularly enjoyed bowling in the opening session with early morning moisture playing to their advantage. If Saurashtra can maximise this early on the fourth day, like they did on the opening morning, they will go a long way in marching towards their second Ranji trophy crown.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo