Mukesh Kumar ran through Karnataka's second innings with a career-best six-wicket haul as Bengal hammered their star-studded opponents by 174 runs to enter their first Ranji Trophy final in 13 years, in Kolkata, on Tuesday.
The low-profile pacer, who had dismissed India regular K L Rahul in Karnataka's first innings, became the hero in the second essay with his 6/61 as Bengal took less than two hours to dismiss Karnataka on day four.
Resuming the day on 98-3 after they were set a huge 352 for victory, Karnataka folded up easily as they lost their remaining seven wickets for 79 runs in 16.3 overs. The fourth day's proceedings lasted just 115 minutes after which the hero-of-the-day Mukesh Kumar was seen carried on his shoulders by Akash Deep.
Bengal, who won their previous Ranji title during Sourav Ganguly's debut season way back in 1989-90, had lost to Mumbai by 132 runs in their last final appearance in 2007.
Bengal will face the winners of the second semi-final between Gujarat and Saurashtra, in the final from March 9 and it will be an away match for them.
Bengal also halted a third treble bid by Karnataka who recently were crowned the domestic One-day (Vijay Hazare Trophy) and T20 (Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy) champions. Karnataka's last treble had come in 2014-15 when they had achieved the feat twice on the trot.
Mukesh Kumar, who had previous best figures of 6/62, looked at his ominous best taking five wickets in just 60 balls with an imperious spell that read 9-4-28-5.
He opened his account in the third over of the day with India batsman Manish Pandey (12) edging it to Shreevats Goswami behind the stumps.
Then in his next over he dismissed K V Siddharth (0) and S Sharath (0) off successive deliveries to snuff out any revival hopes by heavyweights Karnataka.
First the inform Siddharth fell to an away going delivery and was caught by skipper Abhimanyu Easwaran at the slip, and on the next ball Mukesh bolwed an inswinger to trap the wicketkeeper
Talented 19-year-old Karnataka batsman Devdutt Padikkal, who was season's leading run-getter in white ball cricket, was the lone crusader as Karnataka battled to avoid a third semi-final defeat in a row.
Padikkal, who came in at No 3 to accommodate Rahul at the top, hit seven elegant boundaries but Mukesh had his say to dismiss the batsman en route to his fourth five-wicket haul from 21 first-class matches.
Krishnappa Gowtham (22) and Abhimanyu Mithun counter attacked Bengal with a quick 24-run stand for the eighth wicket but it only delayed the inevitable with first innings hero Ishan Porel breaking the partnership.
Gowtham tried to smash Porel's widish delivery over the off-side region, only to be caught by substitute Shreyan Chakraborty in the deep.
And what followed was a noble gesture by Bengal's man-of-the-match Anustup Majumdar, who had turned it around for the home side with his unbeaten 149 in the first innings. Put in, Bengal were 67/6 but Majumdar's second successive century took Bengal to a match-winning 312.
Known for his unique celebrations, the 21-year-old Porel, who is the youngest member of the side, was given a shoe-shine polish by 35-year-old Majumdar, the seniormost member showing the camaraderie in the side.
Thereafter it was just a matter of time before Akash Deep (2/6) cleaned up the big-hitting Abhimanyu Mithun (38) to complete the victory.
Ishan Porel, who grabbed a five-wicket haul in the first innings, took 2/58 that included the prized-scalp of Rahul with peach of an inswinger on Monday.
Playing without the suspended pacer Ashok Dinda, their leading wicket taker for last eight seasons, the three-pronged Bengal pace attack once again was up for task, taking all the 20 wickets on offer.
Brief Scores: Bengal 312 and 161 vs Karnataka 122 and 177; 55.3 overs (Devdutt Paddikkal 62; Mukesh Kumar 6/61). Bengal won by 174 runs.
Vasavada's ton puts Saurashtra in command against Gujarat
Arpit Vasavada's gritty 139 propelled Saurashtra to set a challenging 327-run target for Gujarat on the fourth day of their Ranji Trophy semi-final in Rajkot.
Chintan Gaja' fiery spell had brought Gujarat back into contention on the third day, but Vasavada's seventh first-class hundred, and the third this season, swung the momentum in favour of the hosts.
Courtesy his ton and handy contributions from Chetan Sakariya (45), Chirag Jani (51) and Dharmendrasinh Jadeja (21), Saurashtra recovered from a dismal 15 for five to post 274 in their second innings.
They had a 52-run lead and hence the target set was 327.
When stumps were drawn, Gujarat were seven for one with opener Priyank Panchal (0) back in the hut.
Earlier, resuming the day at 66 for five, Sakariya and Vasavada were going strong before their 90-run sixth wicket stand was broken by a horrible mix-up between the two, which resulted in the former's dismissal.
The hosts lost their sixth wicket on 105. Jani then joined Vasavada and played the perfect second-fiddle as the hosts took lunch at 155 for six. Saurashtra's overall lead had by then passed the 200-run mark.
Post lunch, Vasavada and Jani kept frustrating the Gujarat bowlers.
It was Gaja again, who provided the crucial break-through for the visitors by dismissing Jani in the 84th over.
The new ball did the trick for Gaja, as he bowled in the good length area and Jani's outside edge flew to Samit Gohel in the second slip. Vasavasa and Jani added 109 runs for the seventh wicket.
Gaja took his seventh wicket when he removed Prerak Mankad (1) at the stroke of tea, which Saurashtra took at 222-8.
After Jadeja fell, Vasavada upped the ante but perished in the process. In his 139-run innings, he blasted 16 fours and a six.
Considering that it's a worn-out pitch, it would be a tough ask for Parthiv Patel-led side to chase the target on the final day.
The winner of this game will clash with Bengal, who made to the summit clash after defeating Karnataka.
Brief Scores: Saurashtra 304 and 274 (Arpit Vasavada 139, Chirag Jani 51; Chintan Gaja 7/71) v/s Gujarat 252 and 7/1. Gujarat need 320 runs to win.