A South-East finale
It will be Bengal versus Tamil Nadu in the final of the national one-day championship on Monday. Bengal made the title round for the second successive year beating Baroda by 81 runs at Maharaja Bir Bikram Stadium, while Tamil Nadu made the cut with a 35-run win over Uttar Pradesh at the Tripura Institute of Technology ground.
Bengal won the vital toss and got bowled out for modest 227, some 20 runs less than what they could have got. But their bowlers and fielders excelled in unison to first restrict and then constrict Baroda, who succumbed at 146 after being reduced to 76 for eight in the 30th over.
As expected, it wasn't an easy wicket to bat on although the turn wasn't as vicious as it had been at the main stadium in the first two matches. Bengal lost an early wicket and started accelerating after reaching 25 for one in 10 overs. They needed a partnership after losing two more wickets to be reduced to 83 for three in 22 overs.
Manoj Tiwary and Laxmi Ratan Shukla batted sensibly to set the team on course for a challenging total. Tiwary cut loose after a slow start and it seemed Bengal would run away with the game when they reached 154 for three in the 35th over. Left-arm spinner Rajesh Pawar brought Baroda back by deceiving Tiwary with the flight and getting him stumped. He bowled Debabrata Das next ball to make it tough for Bengal.
With Shukla getting a few more runs and some contributions from the lower order, Bengal reached a position to fight. Ranadeb Bose then struck on the first ball of the Baroda innings by castling Kedar Devdhar. Handicapped in the absence of their mainstay Rakesh Solanki, who was ill, Baroda were jolted again by Bose, trapping Azharuddin Bilakhia soon after.
Bengal's part-timers Shukla and Avik Chowdhury stifled the chase completely in the middle overs, picking up five wickets between themselves to break the back of Baroda, who lost all hope by the 30th over.
Suresh Kumar was the hero for Tamil Nadu who were in deep trouble at 127 for seven in the 37th over. The right-hander made 94 and added 66 for the eighth wicket with C. Gopinath to give his bowlers something to defend. R.P. Singh and Bhuvnesh Kumar did maximum damage for Uttar Pradesh.
The Tamil Nadu bowlers started in similar fashion and reduced their opponents to 66 for five with Mohammad Kaif falling for 25. Ravikant Shukla tried to revive the innings with Piyush Chawla but their hopes evaporated once the latter fell with the total reading 104. Shukla remained unbeaten on 52.