Youngster Abhimanyu Easwaran showed the way with a majestic 150 against Tamil Nadu to take bottom-placed Bengal in sight of their first outright win this season in the Ranji Trophy group A fixture in Kolkata.
The 19-year-old, who idolises Rahul Dravid, showed solid temperament required at this level as he stood tall in a marathon undefeated innings spanning seven hours and seven minutes, and was unnerved even as his senior partner Manoj Tiwary missed a century by three runs in Bengal's imposing first innings total of 454/9 after Tamil Nadu made 246.
Having virtually reduced to 10 batsmen with Tuesday’s injury blow to skipper R Prasanna, Tamil Nadu were in dire straits at 80/1 when stumps were called on day three, still 128 in arrears as Bengal would be eyeing a bonus point.
Ashok Dinda looked intimidating and removed TN's reliable opener and leading run-getter Abinav Mukund (33) in the fag-end of the day as K Bharath Shankar (38 batting) was at the crease with nightwatchman R Aushik Srinivas (1 not out).
Bengal could have easily taken a second wicket had K Bharath Shankar was not dropped on 28 by Manoj Tiwary but in the next ball Dinda trapped Mukund with a sharp in cutter.
Tamil Nadu skipper Prasanna, who injured his lower back after a collision with Dinda, did not field the day and was seen limping out to the team bus as it seemed unlikely for him to bat again that may give Bengal the task to take only eight more wickets on a flat Eden track in the final day on Thursday.
This was Abhimanyu's maiden century from six first class matches and as fate would have it, it came against his home state for the youngster who hails from Tamil Nadu but born and raised in Dehradun.
Abhimanyu hit 19 boundaries in his innings from 282 balls and was first involved in a 154 partnership with his overnight senior batting partner Tiwary who played on left-arm orthodox spinner Aushik to be dismissed for 97 (107 balls; 14x4).
Offspinner Saurasish Lahiri played an important cameo of 43 from 84 balls in a 102 stand with Abhimanyu as the duo toyed Tamil Nadu attack with ease.
With Abhimanyu at his defiant best, Bengal waited for the youngster's 150 as he reached the milestone with a single before the first innings was declared at stroke of tea.
Earlier resuming at the overnight score of 183/2 the duo of Tiwary and Abhimanyu looked absolutely untroubled as they slowly surpassed TN's first innings total to ensure three points on basis of the first innings lead.
Tamil Nadu 246/9 and 80/1; 20 overs (K Bharath Shankar 38 batting)
Bengal 454/9 declared; 121 overs (Abhimanyu Easwaran 150 not out, Manoj Tiwary 97, Saurasish Lahiri 43; T Natarajan 3/92).
Delhi remain in control after curtailed day three
Lahli: Delhi extended their lead against Haryana to 224 runs on a curtailed day three of the Ranji Trophy Group B match at Bansi Lal Cricket Stadium.
Delhi, resuming their second innings at seven for no loss, had reached 134 for five at stumps on a day when only 38 overs could be bowled due to bad light.
Sumit Narwal and Rajat Bhatia were in the middle on 13 and 1 respectively after skipper Gautam Gambhir struck a handy 46. Haryana's seasoned medium pacer Joginder Sharma was the pick of the bowlers, taking three crucial wickets including first innings centurion Virender Sehwag (8).
Sehwag, who had hammered 147 in the first innings, lasted for 25 balls and was trapped in front by Sharma.
Having already secured a first innings lead, group leaders Delhi would press for their fourth straight outright win on the final day, weather permitting of course.
The visitors took the crucial first innings lead y bowling out Haryana for 188 after making 278 in the first innings.
Delhi: 278 & 134/5 in 41 overs (Gautam Gambhir 46, Shivam Sharma 25; Joginder Sharma 3/18, Kuldeep Hooda 2/22).
Haryana: 188 all out.
Yusuf’s six-for takes Baroda on the verge of an outright win
Lucknow: Yusuf Pathan sizzled with his part-time spin and picked up six wickets to take Baroda within sniffing distance of an outright win against Uttar Pradesh on the third and penultimate day of a Group A Ranji Trophy cricket match.
Yusuf (6/67) exploits with the ball enabled Baroda to bundle out UP for 223 in 88.1 overs in their first innings and enforce follow-on on the hosts.
At stumps, UP were 122 for three in their second innings while following on and still need to score 153 runs to avoid an innings defeat.
Umang Sharma was unbeaten 57, while giving him company was Arish Alam on 15.
For Baroda, pacer Swapnil Singh (2/31) picked up two UP wickets in the second innings.
Earlier resuming their first innings at the overnight score of 103 for one in reply to Baroda's huge 498, UP lost wickets at regular intervals to invite trouble for themselves.
Tanmay Srivastava, who was unbeaten on 69 overnight, made a well-deserved 112 off 223 balls with the help of 14 boundaries, but barring him none other UP batsmen could hold their fort.
Besides Yusuf, his brother Irfan Pathan (2/39) and Bhargav Bhatt (2) were the other wicket-takers in UP's first essay.
It will now take a Herculean effort from the UP batsmen to save the match as Baroda has an entire day to wrap up the hosts innings and pocket an outright win.
Baroda: 498 all out in 142 overs.
UP: 223 & 122 for three in 30 overs (Umang Sharma 57 not out; Swapnil Singh 2/31).
Karnataka thrash J&K by an innings and 30 runs
Hubli: Ian Dev Singh fought gallantly with his 94-run knock but other batsmen went without resistance as Karnataka spanked Jammu and Kashmir by an innings and 30 runs on the third day of their Group A Ranji Trophy match.
Resuming at 36 for one, Jammu and Kashmir team was all out for 233 as their middle order crumbled against Karanatka, which had declared its first innings at 423 for nine.
The fast bowling trio of R Vinay Kumar (3/52), Abhimanyu Mithun (3/55), and Sreenath Arvind (3/48) rocked the J&K batting line up to help Karnataka walk away with seven points from the contest.
Overnight batsman AP Singh (4) did not help the cause of the side as he was out in the second ball of the day, bowled by R Vinay Kumar.
Other overnight batsman Adil Reshi (36) and Ian Dev resisted the host attack well with their 64-run stand for the third wicket but once the former was caught off Mithun, J&K innings fell apart.
Ian Dev's knock came off 150 balls with the help of 13 shots to the fence and two over the ropes.
Skipper Perveez Rasool (25) got a start but could not convert it into a knock of significance as he was caught behind off left-arm paceman Aravind.
Hardeep Singh (0), Paras Sharma (4), Ram Dayal (4) and Saiullah Beigh (4) could not even get a double-digit score, adding to the struggle of the visitors.
Jammu and Kashmir 160 and 233 in 66.2 overs.(Ian Dev 94; Adil reshi 36; Sreenath Arvind 3/48, R Vinay Kumar 3/52).
Ojha, Bundela tons help MP take lead over Mumbai
Mumbai: Wicketkeeper Naman Ojha and captain Devendra Bundela cracked hundreds each to help Madhya Pradesh take the crucial first innings lead over Mumbai on day three of their Group A Ranji Trophy tie.
Ojha, who was the reserve wicketkeeper in the opening India-Australia Test at Adelaide when captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was unavailable, slammed a superb 155 studded with 19 fours and a six, while veteran Bundela made 115 laced with 14 fours and a six.
The fourth wicket duo, which joined forces after tea, frustrated the Mumbai attack with a massive stand of 258 off 478 balls to put MP well on way to overhaul the hosts' first innings total of 404.
Thanks to the pair's solid batting followed by a quickfire 67 with 10 fours and a six by Harpreet Singh Bhatia, MP ended the penultimate day at a commanding 538 for seven, an overall lead of 134 runs over the 40-time champions.
At stumps, Ankit Sharma (35) and Puneet Datey (16) were the unconquered batsmen, as the visiting team ensured themselves of at least the first innings points.
Madhya Pradesh: 538 for seven in 162 overs (Naman Ojha 155, Devendra Bundela 115, Iqbal Abdullah 3/123).
Rajasthan bowlers leave Punjab reeling
Jaipur: Punjab were fighting with their back to the wall against a fine bowling by Rajasthan, who had the visitors reeling at 85 for three in their second innings after asking them to follow on in their Ranji Trophy Group B match at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium.
In reply to the Rajasthan's first innings total of 433, Punjab resumed their first essay at 140 for five today, but despite valiant half-centuries from Gurkeerat Mann (85) and Gitansh Khera (64), the visitors folded for 275.
The host bowlers wreaked havoc as Aniket Choudhary (4/57) and Pankaj Singh (3/83) shared seven wickets between them, while Deepak Chahar picked two for 65 and debutant Tanveer Ul Haq grabbed one for 50.
Forced to follow-on, Punjab lost three wickets in the last session to find themselves in dire straits. At the close of play, Taruvar Kohli (34) and Yuvraj Singh (12) at the crease.
Rajasthan's Pankaj Singh (2/23) struck twice and Aniket Choudhary (1/15) once in Punjab's second innings.
Punjab still trail by 73 runs with seven wickets in hand.
Rajasthan 1st innings: 433
Punjab: 275 & 85 for three in 28 overs (Taruwar Kohli 34not out, Pankaj Singh 2/23).
Stephen's 6-wkt haul takes Andhra on verge of victory
Vizianagaram: Pacer Cheepurapalli Stephen's six wicket haul took Andhra on the verge of an outright victory after they bundled out Jharkhand for 104 on the third and penultimate day of their Ranji Trophy match.
Resuming the day 179 for four, Andhra scored 304 all out in their first innings with half centuries from A G Pradeep (53) and Duvvarapu Shivkumar (64) in reply to Jharkhand's 246.
After conceding a 58-run first innings lead to the home side, Jharkhand did even worse in their second essay as they were all out for just 104 in 46 overs with just three of their batsmen making double-digit scores.
Stephen ran through the Jharkhand top and middle-order batting line-up to scalp six wickets for 32 runs at Dr PVG Raju ACA Sports Complex.
Needing 47 runs for a victory, Andhra were 10 for no loss from the one over they got to bat today. They now need 37 more runs for a win with all their second innings wickets in hand.
Jharkhand: 246 & 104 all out in 46 overs (Prakash Munda 29; Cheepurapalli Stephen 6/32)
Andhra: 304 & 10/0 in 1 over.
Image: Abhimanyu Easwaran reacts after completing his century