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Pujara ploughs a lonely furrow

Ashok Dinda and Laxmi Ratan Shukla at the Eden, on Friday. A Telegraph picture

Calcutta: Cheteshwar Pujara showed he’s a class above the rest, but his efforts were not enough to prevent Bengal from taking the lead in the Ranji Trophy tie at the Eden on Friday. At close, Bengal were ahead by 83 runs, having wrested the early initiative.

The Bengal bowlers reaped the rewards for their consistent performance that saw Ashok Dinda return with a four-wicket haul, but it was Shib Shankar Paul’s disciplined line that stifled the Saurashtra batsmen and forced them into submission.

As none of the visiting batsmen showed the guts to battle it out on a green top, Pujara stuck around for 239 minutes, exhibiting the right temperament and application during his 102-run innings. There was not a false stroke during his 146-ball stay at the wicket except for one inside edge, when on 91, off Paul that narrowly missed the leg stump. A confident leg-before shout was also negated by the umpire.

None, however, could disturb Pujara’s concentration. Dinda tried to test him with short-pitched stuff but he remained unflustered. He was confident when leaving deliveries in the corridor of uncertainty and showed the patience to wait for the loose balls.

There were 15 boundaries and one six in his innings, but Saurashtra were done in by the lack of partnerships. “We needed one good partnership with Pujara…

“We didn’t bowl well after lunch on the opening day, and today our batsmen were no good,” conceded visiting captain Jaydev Shah. “We need to bowl well to keep our chances alive.”

The Saurashtra openers began cautiously, but both left within a space of five balls identically caught behind after failing to gauge the lateral movement.

Laxmi Ratan Shukla then joined the party following his exploits with the bat. Sheldon Jackson was caught at first slip in Shukla’s first over. Saurashtra hopes flickered only around Pujara when Jaydev paid the penalty for chasing a wide Sourav Sarkar delivery, Sandipan Das holding on to a good diving catch at slip.

The Bengal bowlers never let the advantage slip, maintaining the pressure at both ends. The most engrossing part came in the final session with Paul and Dinda ensuring the Saurashtra tailenders didn’t prosper.

While Paul used all his experience to choke the runs, Dinda’s three wickets ended Saurashtra’s resistance at 225. Even Pujara was done in by the movement, bowled off the inside edge. Dinda figures in his final spell read 3.3-0-11-3.

Having failed to impress in the Ranji matches so far, Friday’s performance is sure to boost his confidence. An in-form Dinda could help Bengal pull off a few upsets in the forthcoming matches.

If Bengal can muster a lead of around 300, things will be tough for Saurashtra in the fourth innings. Bengal will be handicapped by the absence of Rohan Banerjee, who injured his shoulder while fielding.