Enjoy karke khelenge  (we will enjoy while playing),” quipped one of the fielders as the Jharkhand openers made their way to the middle after being on the field for 218.4 overs with Bengal declaring its first innings for a mammoth 773 for seven on the third day of the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal at the Just Cricket Academy Ground here on Wednesday.  

Akash Deep (53 n.o., 18b, 8x6), true to those words, launched his team into the pages of history with his eighth six and raced to an 18-ball 50. With Akash’s fifty, Bengal became the first team in the history of first-class cricket to have nine of its players score fifty runs or more in the same innings. 

In reply, Jharkhand, despite being aided by three dropped catches, was stuttering on 139 for five at Stumps, trailing by 634 runs.  

Shahbaz Ahmed (two for five) struck with two late wickets to extend Jharkhand’s plight. Just as captain Saurabh Tiwary (33, 62b, 4x1, 1x6) and his deputy Virat Singh entered the rebuild mode with a 46-run alliance off 116 balls after pacer Sayan Mondal (three for 32) had reduced Jharkhand to 88 for three, Tiwary stepped out and found the long-on fielder to perfection before Shahbaz got the ball to turn and bounce and take Kumar Kushagra’s outside edge to the wicketkeeper. 

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Earlier, the Jharkhand openers scraped through a probing spell by Ishan Porel and Mukesh Kumar as Bengal’s pace battery – the most successful in the tournament so far – lived up to its reputation. The duo extracted bounce and movement off the surface early on as the ball repeatedly missed the outside edges.  

Kumar Deobrat, after the silence of 16 balls, got the innings underway with a straight drive for four before being reprieved in the slips. A more assured Nazim Siddiqui, who sprayed the off-side with his drives to the boundary, lost his focus after reaching his 58-ball half-century with an outside edge. He uppercut a short one to the deep point fielder after being dropped by Shahbaz playing the same shot earlier.  

Mondal's attacking lines stood out on a surface where wickets came at a trickle for Jharkhand. With two or three slips a constant feature throughout his spell, he angled the ball on the stumps - forcing Deobrat to play and shaped it away to induce the outside edge. He kept the ball on a good length and just outside off to cramp Utkarsh Singh and Siddiqui on the backfoot.  

Earlier, building on Bengal’s 577 for five, Shahbaz was off the blocks quickly, collecting two fours in the first over of the day – an outside edge between the slips followed by a drive through covers. Manoj Tiwary struck his first runs of the day with a lofted drive over covers for two before a leading edge raced to the point boundary. With a six over square leg, Tiwary was rushing through his innings before he perished to a slash straight to the extra-cover fielder.  

With the Jharkhand pacers resorting to a short-ball ploy, Shahbaz and Mondal stood deep and cut the ball late to pierce the gaps and put on 101 runs for the seventh wicket. While the former fell trying to up the ante before lunch, his Royal Challengers Bangalore teammate Akash took over with his lusty blows.