Bengal’s youth and experience came to the fore as Sudip Gharami (112, 213b, 12x4, 2x6) and Anustup Majumdar (120, 206b, 13x4, 1x6) frustrated defending champion Madhya Pradesh with a 241-run partnership for the third wicket on the first day of the Ranji Trophy semifinal here on Wednesday.
Facing an opposition that thwarted Bengal’s campaign at the same stage last season, Gharami and Majumdar saw off Gaurav Yadav and Anubhav Agarwal in the first session, braved a short-ball ploy from Avesh Khan and rode out the spin threat of Saransh Jain and Kumar Kartikeya.
However, both perished within two overs of the onset of the second new ball. Avesh castled Majumdar with a yorker that tailed away and Anubhav trapped Gharami in front with one that seamed in to enthuse the smattering of fans and ensure they return tomorrow with Bengal 307 for four at Stumps.
But the home crowd’s celebration came only after a 414-ball wait.
Meanwhile, Majumdar fittingly notched up his 13th First-Class hundred off 176 balls with a pull to deep square-leg, a shot he first signalled his intent with, in the morning, and employed skillfully throughout the day, particularly against Avesh.
The 38-year-old Anustup celebrated the landmark by wryly sticking his taped left thumb out, still sore from the knock it received in the final league game against Odisha.
Moments later, Gharami struck his 183-ball century with a bold reverse sweep, an option he hadn’t explored until that point in the day.
The 23-year-old had pounced on the fuller deliveries and innocuous half-volleys with crisp drives and deft flicks of the toes. It helped that the Madhya Pradesh’s pacers erred in their lines, veering too straight and on the pads in an attempt to bring the packed leg-side field into play.
On a pitch which offered little pace or bounce, there was a case for pitching the ball up to the batters.
After all, Gaurav and Anubhav had breached the defence of Abhimanyu Easwaran and Karan Lal, respectively, with yorker-length deliveries that shaped in late.
But those two rippers, which came in a span of four deliveries, were anomalies in an effort marred by inaccuracy. Left-arm spinner Kartikeya started proceedings on a day that was wicketless for the tweakers and was taken off after three overs.
With a generous layer of grass running through the middle of the pitch, Avesh and Gaurav were tempted to bowl back-of-a-length. But openers Abhimanyu and Lal drove and pushed off the backfoot with ease and rushed to 50 in 10.2 overs after Bengal opted to bat.
The spinners too were largely ineffective, save for Kartikeya occasionally extracting awry bounce and Jain inducing two false shots from Gharami, who was dropped on 26 and 76 off his bowling.
While the new ball has given MP a foothold, captain Manoj Tiwary and Shahbaz Ahmed hold the promise of burying the home team under a mountain of runs.