New Delhi: Wriddhiman Saha anchored his innings to perfection as Bengal defeated Punjab by three wickets to make it to the final of the National One Day Championship for the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
It is Bengal`s fourth ODI final appearance in the last five years having lost on all three previous occasions. They will play Mumbai in the final scheduled on Monday.
Punjab scored a modest 205 for eight on a difficult track at the Services ground in Palam, Saha coming in at No 5 batted with lot of maturity on a track which had variable bounce.
The left-arm spin duo of debutant Vinay Chaudhary (2/53) and Rajwinder Golu (3/19) troubled the batsmen with turn and deliveries that kept low. Eevn skipper Harbhajan Singh (1/28) kept things tight making scoring difficult.
Wriddhiman, who has now scored his sixth consecutive half-century remained unbeaten on 53 off 71 deliveries with three fours. But it was his running between the wickets that made the difference as he pushed his partners to convert ones into twos and twos into threes.
His partnership of 51 runs for the sixth wicket with Debabrata Das (23) proved to be crucial in the context of the match as Bengal had then slumped to 111 for five.
Credit should also be given to Mohammed Shami (22 not out, 7 balls, 3x4, 1x6) whose cameo made things much easier in the end than it looked. He hit Vinay for a four and then a big six into sight-screen to finish off the match in style.
Among the top-order batsmen, skipper Sourav Ganguly (24, 29 balls, 2x4, 1x6) looked in his element as he lofted Manpreet Gony over long-on for a six and then another lofted shot off the bowler got him a boundary.
However, seeing debutant left-arm spinner Vinay being introduced into the attack, Ganguly couldn`t resist the temptation of stepping out only to inside edge the delivery onto his stumps.
In the morning, Bengal bowlers reduced Punjab to 34 for five within 13 overs, before all-rounder Bipul Sharma (59, 7 balls, 6x4, 1x6) and No 3 batsman Mandeep Singh (66, 110 balls, 6x4) added 104 runs to steady the innings.
It was Bipul who counter-attacked with some clean hitting that included a lofted six off left-arm spinner Iresh Saxena.
Mandeep also played the role of second fiddle to pefection as they added runs at an average of over seven runs per over.
Bipul was finally out in the 27th over when he fell to a well-disguised bouncer by Shami as he gloved to Wriddhiman.
Skipper Harbhajan once again showed his batting prowess smashing an unbeaten 39 off 50 balls which helped his team cross 200-run mark which had looked improbable after the first 15 overs.
Among Bengal bowlers, Sourav Sarkar who got a couple of wickets with his first two deliveries finished with figures of two for 24 in seven overs while off-spinner Arnab Nandi (2/40) also chipped in with a couple of wickets. Ganguly (1/18), Shami (1/44) and Laxmi Ratan Shukla (1/40) got a wicket each.
Brief Scores: Punjab 205/8 (M Singh 66, B Sharma 59, Harbhajan Singh 39 no, S Sarkar 2/24), Bengal 208/7 in 47.5 overs (W Saha 53 no, S Ganguly 24, Md Shami 22 no). Bengal won by 3 wkts.
Final: Bengal vs Mumbai (Feroz Shah Kotla, Mar 12, 9 am).