A high portion of red soil blended with the local black cotton soil has radically changed the texture of the pitch here at the Civil Lines venue of the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) stadium; and perhaps for good reasons too. From what was two-years-ago a rank turner that largely enabled local off-spinner Akshay Wakhare to take a bucketful of wickets, the pitch has become a conventional four-day wicket for the skilful and clever seamers to gain a lot of purchase on day one of a first-class match.

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On Tuesday, Mumbai fast bowler, Shardul Thakur, given the first use of a surface that aided speed and lift, caused the downfall of six batsmen and skittled out Bengal for 99 in a little under three hours in the first innings of the Ranji Trophy Group 'A' league match. Thakur was ably supported by Dhawal Kulkarni who hastened Bengal’s collapse in the post lunch session taking the last three wickets. Precariously placed at 96 for five at the long interval, Bengal lost five wickets for the addition of three runs in a flat 24 minutes.

After a bright start, Mumbai conceded ground with the Bengal seamers, Ashoke Dinda, Amit Kuila and Mukesh Kumar, sending down excellent spells and as the shadows lengthened at the Civil Lines stadium, Mumbai skipper Aditya Tare would have looked at his team’s score of 164 for five and wondered, if his teammates could have watched the ball more carefully. Tare has already spent close to an hour in the middle.

The league has run through almost three-fourths of its course and the onus was on Bengal — lying fifth in the particular nine-team group — to do a lot of catching with the four teams placed above it. It’s task was cut out against a team that had competed well right through the tournament and was musing on the success of a handful of newcomers. In another context, Tare and coach Chandrakant Pandit wished that their spearhead for the last three years, Thakur had a successful run in the previous five matches; he had gone wicketless in the match against Gujarat at Hubballi.

With just two more matches remaining for the knockouts to start, Mumbai expected Thakur to hit the straps and at the first sight of an encouraging surface, and the prolific wicket-taker for two consecutive years, did not let them down after Tare chose to field, calling correctly at the toss. He had dropped left-arm spinner Aditya Dhumal for a third seamer in Tushar Deshpande. The idea was to maximise the potential of taking wickets on a pitch that had life in it and once Thakur gave a breakthrough forcing Abhimanyu Eswaran to defend and nick for Iyer to convert a low catch at second slip and debutant Abhishek Kumar Raman offered a catch to Bista in the slip cordon, Bengal was under immense pressure. It caved in soon with left hander Sudip Chatterjee surviving for 112 minutes.

The Mumbai openers Jay Bista and Kaustubh Pawar (78, 155 mts, 12x4, 2x6) gave a flying start rattling off 52 in the first eight overs, but Dinda, Kumar and Kuila bowled to a one-side field and controlled the proceedings. After defending stoutly and hitting bold shots, Pawar gifted his wicket attempting a wild swing against Kumar, who was the pick of the seamers initially, before Dinda made an impact in his second spell.