Madhya Pradesh recovered from the loss of two cheap wickets to a healthy 254 for four at stumps on the first day of their five-day Ranji Trophy quarter final against Bengal at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, on Wednesday.
Half-centuries from opener Aditya Shrivastava (65), Naman Ojha (64) and No. 6 Harpreet Singh Bhatia (51 not out) and an unconquered 42 not out from experienced campaigner and skipper Devendra Bundela pulled the MP innings around from 39 for two.
A century partnership of 102 for the third wicket between Shrivastava and Ojha steadied the innings and then an unbeaten stand of 92 between Bundela and Bhatia consolidated MP's position after they were asked to bat first by Bengal skipper Manoj Tiwary on a track with a tinge of green on it.
MP lost in-form opener Jalaj Saxena in the fourth over and then lost Rajat Patidar in the 21st over before recovering through the century partnership between Shrivastava and Naman Ojha.
Saxena, who came into the quarter-finals after scoring 530 runs in the league stage of the competition, was caught at point cutting the first ball of Veerpratap Singh's second over.
Then Shrivastava and Patidar exercised caution in lively conditions to crawl their way to 39 in the 21st over when the one-down batsman chopped Bengal's first change seam bowler Sayan Mondal on to his stumps after making 17 off 56 balls.
That brought together wicketkeeper Naman Ojha and Shrivastava who went about repairing the innings, starting cautiously before lunch, which was taken at 83 for 2 in 33 overs, and then opening up in the second session with some fluent shots on either side of the wicket.
Their partnership was broken by left arm spinner Pragyan Ojha who had Shrivastava, who struck eight fours in his 142-ball knock, caught flicking at short mid wicket by a diving Shreevats Goswami.
Naman Ojha, who batted confidently and hit 10 fours in his 119-ball innings, departed 10 overs later by stretching out defensively to Veerpratap and edging the medium pacer to Tiwary in the slip region, to leave MP at a tricky 162 for 4.
Bengal were smelling blood at this stage and another wicket could have opened the floodgates, but it was prevented by MP's vastly experienced captain Devendra Bundela and his slightly more aggressive fifth wicket partner Harpreet Singh Bhatia.
The duo was unseparated in a tea score of 166 for 4 in 59 overs and continued to bat without much trouble post tea to take the score past the 200-run mark in the 70th over.
It was no surprise when Tiwary summoned the second new ball as soon as it was due when MP were 235 for 4. But the move did not pay dividends with Bundela and Bhatia batting confidently against the trio of Bengal medium pacers.
Veerpratap was the most successful of the Bengal bowling attack to return figures of two for five while Ojha and Mandal secured a wicket each.
But, much to their disappointment, Bengal's main strike bowler Ashok Dinda, who had grabbed 31 wickets in the league stage, did not taste success after bowling 20 overs.
Madhya Pradesh 254 for 4 (Aditya Shrivastava 65, Naman Ojha 64, Devendra Bundela not out 42, Harpreet Singh Bhatia 51 not out; Veerpratap Singh 2 for 55) v Bengal.
Image: Naman Ojha hits a boundary.