Ranji Trophy semifinal: Mantri, Raghuwanshi lead MP to 271/6 over Bengal on Day 1

Himanshu Mantri (134, 280b, 15×4, 1×6) completed a gritty maiden first-class hundred, while Akshat Raghuwanshi (63, 81b, 8×4, 2×6) hit a swift fifty to take Madhya Pradesh to a respectable 271/6 at stumps after it was hobbling at 97 for 4, on Day 1 of its Ranji Trophy semifinal against Bengal at the KSCA ground in Alur on Tuesday.

Fielding first, Bengal pacers Mukesh Kumar (2 for 45) and Akash Deep (2 for 55) bowled predominantly full to exploit the early swing and seam. They gave a combined 15 runs in their first spells, with Mukesh picking a wicket. He set up MP opener Yash Dubey for lbw in his third over by maintaining the fourth stump line for the first two deliveries. For the next two balls, he went closer to the stumps before hitting Dubey on the pads with one that seamed in sharply.

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Meanwhile, the way Mantri went about his innings spoke of the pressure MP was under in the morning: initially, he was all circumspection, carefully defending deliveries and letting quite a few balls go. The left-hander, who took 49 deliveries to score his first boundary, was happy grafting every step of the way.

Each run during his second-wicket stand of 49 with Shubham Sharma drew generous applause from his teammates. But left-arm spinner Praditpa Pramanik, who last played a first-class game in 2019, ended the resistance with his first ball of the match, clean bowling Shubham with one that gripped and turned.

Mukesh, brought back before lunch, then got Rajat Patidar caught at slip, prompting Bengal coach Arun Lal to let out a loud “Shaabash beta¬†(well done, son)” from the sidelines.

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Mantri, meanwhile, reached his 50 off 146 balls with a four but perhaps just as MP was contemplating a move on in the afternoon session, Shahbaz Ahmed returned for his second spell and got captain Aditya Shrivastava to chop on. Bengal’s in-out field meant MP batters had to manufacture boundary opportunities, which caused Shrivastava to attempt a cut shot off a short ball that was too close to his body.

His dismissal brought Raghuwanshi to the crease and his injection of intent turned MP’s innings from one of dour survival to a spirited counterattack. He raced to 34 off as many balls with four fours and two sixes before completing a half-century off 63 balls. His 123-run stand with Mantri, before being trapped in front by Akash, kept MP on an even keel on day one. MP will now hope Mantri can set it up for a big first-innings total on the second day.

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