Bengal captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla, frontline bowler Ashoke Dinda were aware of Sangram Atitkar’s capability at the crease, so were not surprised at the ease with which the Maharashtra number seven batsman slipped into the attacking role on the second day of the Ranji Trophy semifinal.

Attitkar composed a classy 168 in the first innings at the Holkar Stadium to put the match beyond Bengal’s reach. The ease with which he sized up an experienced attack and time available to play shots were suggestive of a willow-wielder deserving a slot higher than number seven in first-class cricket.

The 26-year-old strokeplayer from Kolhapur explained: “My regular position is number three, since we have better-known batsmen like Vijay Zol and Kedar Jadhav, I was asked to go lower down. Runs for the team count, not where I play.”

Bengal had crumbled to 114 on this track, but he was unfazed. “There was movement early on, so survival was crucial. Once I settled down then it was my responsibility to take charge of run-making, along with tailenders,” said the Maharashtra century-maker.

The boundaries flowed off his blade, whiplash timing standing out.

With four centuries in first-class cricket and 2259 runs aggregate from 36 matches, Attitkar is an accomplished batsman in his own right. The demotion would have disturbed a lesser player, not this team man. “We wanted to a huge first innings score so that batting again can be avoided. I am happy to have eased the road ahead for bowlers.”

Maharashtra one step away from the Ranji final may surprise cricket followers, but Attitkar explains the trigger for hunger in the squad. “We have players who won titles in U-16, U-19. Vijay Zol won with India U-19. When Maharashtra finished as the number one T20 team, I was a member (2009-10 Mushtaq Ali Trophy champion team) at Indore. This group has tasted success and is hungry for more.”

Attitkar was influenced by grandfather Dinkar Attitkar. “He played at school-and college-level, so knew what it takes to become a competitive cricketer. I worked my way up from U-13, U-15, U-19 for Maharashtra under various coaches. We won at the national-level, like the Cooch Behar. Winning is a habit for us, now Ranji Trophy is another opportunity.”

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