Kolkata: A spirited Bengal downed bitter foes Railways by 48 runs in their controversy-filled match to set up a Ranji Trophy semifinal clash against Maharashtra, at the Eden Gardens on Sunday.
Set a target of 271, Railways were bundled out for 222 in 83.3 overs with Laxmi Ratan Shukla leading from the front taking 3/45. Also, Ashoke Dinda (2/77), Sourav Sarkar (2/22) and Shib Shankar Paul (2/47) returned with two apiece to take Bengal to the semis for the first time since 2006-07. (Also read: Shukla docked full match fees for team's slow over rate)
Needing 154 to win at the start of the day, Railways most trusted batting combination of Mahesh Rawat (14) and Arindam Ghosh (50) looked to threaten the Bengal camp under overcast conditions after Dinda gave the first breakthrough in the 10th over in the form of Nitin Bhille (5).
But it was once again the Bengal skipper who stood out, this time with the ball to send back Rawat while the veteran Paul, with his immaculate line and length, forced danger man Ghosh to make an error derailing the Railways. (Related read: Ashok Malhotra has inspired us a lot, says Shukla)
Ghosh's finely executed innings of 50 from 107 balls with eight fours came to an end after he was deceived by a fine late outswinger from Paul.
In fact, Bengal dropped four catches -- by Lahiri, Shukla, Dinda and Arnab Nandi to prolong their wait.
Paul broke into an impromptu 'Gangnam Style' jig after dismissing Karn Sharma while Sarkar wiped off the tail with two wickets in two balls after the new ball was taken in the 82nd over.
Sarkar knocked Ranjit Mali's leg stump for a first ball duck as the entire Bengal team jumped in celebration and was joined by the support staff.
Watched by a more than 2000 strong Sunday crowd, the entire Bengal contingent also did a victory lap in what was their last match at Eden this season.
Playing without their their main batsman and regular skipper Manoj Tiwary, India pacer Mohammad Shami and Wriddhiman Saha, who missed four matches due to national duty in South Africa, the Shukla-led Bengal were almost written off following their mediocre performances in the early stages.
But the depleted showed fine team spirit as they came back strongly with back to back wins against Uttar Pradesh (home) and Tamil Nadu (away) in their last two league fixtures to make the quarters as the third team from group B.
Now with Tiwary expected to be in the semis line-up and Saha back in his elements after two half-centuries against in the match, Bengal would certainly fancy their chances against Maharashtra in their chase for a third Ranji title.
Eleven times Ranji runners-up Bengal had lost to Mumbai by 132 runs in a one-sided Ranji final in 2006-07. Bengal had also made the Ranji final in the previous season (2005-06) only to go down to Uttar Pradesh.
Snubbed by his home state where he played only six matches five seasons ago, Ghosh almost snatched the match with his solid innings.
Having switched sides to Railways, the Barasat-lad, who already had a double century and a hundred besides three half-centuries from eight outings, was in full flow.
With Railways batting mainstay Rawat who approached his innings in his usual unruffled way, Ghosh frustrated the home camp. They were also subjected to some mind gamed by Dinda and Co but the duo kept cool.
After surviving some intense moments, Rawat opened his account with a copybook straight drive to long on boundary.
He repeated the same shot against Dinda from the high court end while Sarkar was brilliantly pulled by Ghosh in the next over as Railways raced to 153/4 at the first drinks, 118 runs shy of the target.
Around that time, Sourav Ganguly came in to the stadium to a huge roar but with the Railways pair of Rawat and Ghosh brilliantly steadying the ship the former India captain did not stay long.
Rawat was bowled for 14 off 28 balls after playing on to the stumps in Shukla's second over of the day, in a breakthrough that tilted the match towards Bengal.
Overcast conditions forced a delay of one hour and 16 minutes and Railways resumed the day for 117 for three with Nitin Bhille and Ghosh making amends for their top order collapse.