Sangram Atitkar hit 168 off 228 balls as Maharashtra made 455 in its first innings, and went to stumps on the second day of its Ranji Trophy semifinal against Bengal in an unassailable position.
With Bengal ending the day on 16 for one — a good 325 runs away from making its opponents bat again — Maharashtra will look to wrap things up on Monday.
Maharashtra, which had gone to stumps on the first day already ahead by 50 runs, went on to press home the advantage. The good news for Bengal was that the prolific Kedar Jadhav and the exciting Vijay Zol were back in the dressing room.
When skipper Laxmi Ratan Shukla trapped Rohit Motwani in front early in the day, it looked like Bengal might just about do enough to keep itself in contention.
Then, Atitkar, walking out at No. 7, and Ankit Bawne (89, 208b, 14x4, 1x6) consolidated, working the ball around and patiently waiting for the bowlers to err.
When Sandipan Das was introduced, Bawne turned on the heat with a fluent straight drive off the very first ball, and followed it up with an audacious slogged six over mid-wicket.
Bengal, meanwhile, was too passive on the field. Shukla seemed to allow matters to drift. His options were limited also by the over-rate requirements, forcing him to make debutant Kaushik Ghosh hurry through his overs.
The new ball was promptly taken after lunch, and Ashoke Dinda immediately delivered the breakthrough. Bawne flashed at an out-swinger, and the ball flew to the slips where Sandipan Das held a reflex catch, and a superb 113-run stand for the sixth wicket was broken.
After Akshat Darekar went cheaply, Atitkar and Anupam Sanklecha (52, 72b, 4x4, 4x6) put on a further 103 runs for the eighth wicket. Atitkar leaned into drives, and pulled with abandon; his 29 boundaries were spread all around.
By the time he departed, he had put Maharashtra well and truly in the driving seat.
Shukla used eight bowlers, none of whom was able to deliver that inspirational spell which might have given Bengal some hope.
It was in its own first innings that Bengal had lost the plot. After its brittle line-up was exposed on day one, the side seemed to just go through the motions when Maharashtra batted.
The scores: Bengal — 1st innings: 114.
Maharashtra — 1st innings: Harshad Khadiwale b Shukla 28, Chirag Khurana c Saha b Dinda 48, Vijay Zol lbw b Shukla 1, Kedar Jadhav c&b Dinda 40, Ankit Bawne c Sandipan b Dinda 89, Rohit Motwani lbw b Shukla 8, Sangram Atitkar b Paul 168, Akshay Darekar c Sandipan b Sarkar 10, Anupam Sanklecha c Saha b Sarkar 52, Dominic Muthuswamy b Paul 4, Samad Fallah (not out) 4; Extras (b-1, nb-2): 3; Total (in 126.3 overs): 455.
Fall of wickets: 1-78, 2-78, 3-91, 4-141, 5-164, 6-277, 7-328, 8-431, 9-437.
Bengal bowling: Ashoke Dinda 30-7-114-3, Sourav Sarkar 27.3-6-105-2, Laxmi Ratan Shukla 27-4-76-3, Shib Shankar Paul 19-5-54-2, Saurasish Lahiri 11-1-48-0, Sandipan Das 2-0-16-0, Koushik Ghosh 7-2-14-0, Abhimanyu Easwaran 3-0-27-0.
Bengal — 2nd innings: Koushik Ghosh c Khurana b Fallah 9, Arindam Das (batting) 7; Total (for one wkt. in 4.5 overs): 16.
Fall of wicket: 1-16.
Maharashtra bowling: Samad Fallah 2.5-0-7-1, Anupam Sanklecha 1-0-8-0, Dominic Muthuswamy 1-0-1-0.
Keywords: Ranji Trophy