Railways' experienced campaigner Mahesh Rawat proved to be the thorn in the flesh for Bengal as he stood tall with an unbeaten century to lead the visiting team's recovery on the second day of the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal in Kolkata on Thursday.
Propelled by Rawat's unbeaten 105 in an undefeated 191-run partnership with Arindam Ghosh (78 batting), Railways ended second day at 233/5, trailing Bengal by only 84 runs with five wickets in hand.
In reply to Bengal's challenging first innings total of 317, Railways were tottering at 42/5 after losing three wickets for four runs just after lunch when Ashok Dinda was firing on all cylinders with veteran Shib Shankar Paul giving a good back-up.
But the Railways wicketkeeper-batsman, counter-attacked Dinda with six successive classical boundaries before turning around the match for the visitors. The flurry of boundaries against Bengal's strike bowler derailed the home side and it failed to recover from the slide.
Luck too went in favour of Rawat, who survived a run-out scare when he was on 28. Barring this, it was a chance-less knock by Rawat and he executed his shots to perfection. Bengal's bowling was reduced to a two-pace attack in Dinda and Paul with Sourav Sarkar lacking in intensity.
In no time, Rawat raced to his ninth 50-plus score from 10 matches this season, notching up his 28th first-class half century in 48 balls. Such was his domination that Rawat scored 78 runs in (18) fours and sixes in his 125-ball unbeaten innings. The batsman has over 700 runs under his belt at an average of over 70 this season. In local-lad Ghosh, Rawat found a perfect ally as the two leading run-getters of Railways staged yet another recovery act.
The duo notched up the 100-run partnership in 37.1 overs and Ghosh also got a reprieve, dropped on 44 at the second slip by Sudip Chatterjee. The former Bengal batsman, Ghosh, steadily completed his fourth first class half-century in 117 balls to frustrate the home camp.
With no assistance from Sarkar, Shukla went back to Dinda and Paul towards the fag end of the day and Rawat was happy to step up the attack again to notch his third century of the season. Rawat hit two consecutive boundaries off Dinda to race to 99 before notching the century in style with a deft single. Earlier, resuming at 274 for eight, Bengal's first innings folded for 317 in less than an hour this morning after Saha's defiant innings came to an end for 87 (1x6, 11x4) when the wicketkeeper-batsman was caught by Kartik at second slip off the bowling of Upadhyay.
Dinda was the first to be dismissed in the third over of the day when he was castled by Mali without any addition to his overnight total of 17. Just when it looked like Bengal would fold inside 300, Paul produced a cameo of 14 not out in a 38-run last wicket partnership.
Brief scores: Bengal 317 in 101.5 overs (Wriddhiman Saha 87; Anureet Singh 4/88). Railways 233/5 (Mahesh Rawat 105 batting, Arindam Ghosh 78 batting; Ashok Dinda 3/83, Shib Shankar Paul 2/36).