Bengal continued to sink its teeth deeper into Jharkhand and inched closer to securing a semifinal spot with a 551-run lead on day four of the first quarterfinal of the Ranji Trophy at the Just Cricket Academy Ground here on Thursday.
Taking the field after conceding a 475-run first innings lead – as Bengal didn’t enforce the follow-on - Shahbaz Nadeem (three for 18) gave Jharkhand something to cheer about as Bengal took Stumps at 76 for three, with its top three back in the hut.
With the result a foregone conclusion, Virat Singh (113 n.o., 239b, 15x4, 3x6) was the other silver lining for Jharkhand, as he defied Bengal for two sessions and frustrated it further with a 57-run partnership for the tenth wicket with Ashish Kumar – the second-highest of the innings.
Nadeem scalped two wickets in 56 overs in the first innings but found assistance off the pitch in the second to take three in 11. He foxed openers Abhimanyu Easwaran and Abhishek Raman with his turn before castling young Sudip Kumar Gharami with the arm-ball to take his wickets tally for the season to 23 – only behind Shams Mulani’s 37. With Anustup Majumdar and Manoj Tiwary looking to prevent further damage and Nadeem continuing to threaten, the chatter around the batters from the close-in fielders finally returned for Jharkhand.
Facing a tall task at the start of day’s play, with Jharkhand behind by 634 runs with five wickets in hand, Virat was watchful, resisting from poking outside off and evading the short balls. Meanwhile, Sayan Mondal (four for 71) and Shahbaz Ahmed (four for 51) sent back Anukul Roy and Shahbaz Nadeem in the first session to continue Jharkhand’s slide.
With Rahul Shukla and Sushant Mishra falling in quick succession after lunch, Virat, his hundred approaching, decided to take the attack to the bowlers. He stepped out to cream a drive through the covers before charging down the pitch again next ball and slashing a six over point to move into the 80s. He then swept Shahbaz to move into the nineties before bringing up his sixth first-class century with a flick for two.
No.11 Ashish played a valiant hand and braved a barrage of short deliveries – prompting him to wear an elbow guard halfway into Ishan Porel’s over - to enable Virat’s hundred. Ashish fended off a vicious bouncer next ball before leaning into a drive through covers for four as Porel over-pitched.
Akash Deep uprooted Ashish’s middle-stump to cut short the rearguard and force Jharkhand back onto the field – for the eighth session inside four days.