Kolkata: 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 cricket fixture here today.
The frail-looking 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 yesterday'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*).
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 tomorrow.
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 (4x4, 1x6) 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.
"To have Manojda (Tiwary) at the other end, it really helped me. I was playing my natural game and looked to contribute as many runs as possible for my side," Abhimanyu, who already had two half centuries this sesaon (85 and 65), told reporters.
After seeing his senior partner dismissed, Abhimanyu however did not lose his cool and surpassed his career-best 85.
He went on to 99 with an elegant straight drive against K Natarajan but he displayed superb composure and completed a single to notch his maiden century.
He later dedicated his knock to his late grandfather who passed away during the last Ranji season.
Brief Scores: 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). Match to continue.