It wasn’t an average day’s play at the Holkar Stadium on Wednesday (January 11). The cricket wasn’t necessarily of the highest quality, but errors galore from batsman, bowler, fielder and umpire alike combined to make for a gripping spectacle on the second day of the final of the Ranji Trophy.
Gujarat finished an extended day two pretty much how they began it – with their noses in front, if only just. They could have found themselves in a much better position hadn’t they carelessly tossed a few wickets away, but by the same token, Mumbai could have been well in the ascendancy had they not been profligate with their catching.
It was that kind of a day, frustrating in parts, exhilarating in parts but always fascinating and compelling. By the time the curtain came down on the proceedings, Gujarat had kicked on to open up a 63-run lead, finishing on 291 for 6 after having bowled the defending champions out for 228 late on the first evening.
Armed with the second new ball taken late in the day, Mumbai will target a swift end to the innings, while Gujarat’s goal will be to maximise the lead. The first session, needless to say, will be crucial.
Gujarat’s batting heroes weren’t their two triple-centurion openers of this season but Parthiv Patel (90), their feisty captain, and Manprit Juneja (77), who oozes class but is prone to inexplicable brain-fades like the one that cost him his wicket when a century was his for the taking. Samit Gohel, put down off the first ball of the innings on Tuesday, and Priyank Panchal dug in for 85 deliveries combined while making 10, allowing Mumbai to call the shots at the start of the day, until Bhargav Merai first, and then Parthiv and Juneja prised that grip open.
Mumbai were once again thankful that amidst all the mayhem of dropped catches and a front-foot infringement that cost Shardul Thakur the scalp of Parthiv when the batsman was just 20, they had the indefatigable Abhishek Nayar in their ranks. The right-arm medium pacer is 33, and neither quick nor a particularly skilful exponent of swing, but what he might lack in exceptional skill, he more than makes up for with a never-say-die attitude and the ability to bowl long spells without flagging in either accuracy or intensity. Nayar took a wicket in each of his first three spells of seven, 10 and seven overs respectively.
The rest of the bowling seldom rose beyond the pedestrian – Thakur had his moments but not consistently so, Balwinder Singh Sandhu barely clocked 120 kph and Vijay Gohil and Vishal Dabholkar, the left-arm spinners, hardly made an impression – but Nayar kept plugging away, sticking to a channel outside off to both right-hand batsmen and left, preying on their patience and eventually walking away with the wickets of Panchal, Merai and Parthiv.
For all that, it was Thakur who drew first blood inside the first hour on day two. So focussed were Gohel and Panchal on survival that the scoreboard had ground to a complete standstill when Thakur went round the stumps, squared the former up and took the outside edge that was smartly gobbled up to his left at second slip by Suryakumar Yadav.
There was little else that was smart about Mumbai’s catching for the rest of the day. Prithvi Shaw’s lifeline to Gohel hadn’t proved expensive, but Shreyas Iyer had plenty of time to rue his grassing of a regulation offering at midwicket when Juneja, on 15, lazily flicked Nayar in the air. All this followed on the back of Thakur’s front-foot infringement and a second howler in two days from Anil Chaudhary, who alone didn’t seem to hear the noise as Merai thick-edged Nayar to Aditya Tare behind the sticks.
Upon Gohel’s dismissal, Merai had arrived in a blaze of boundaries in a manner typical of his season thus far, when he has got off to hectic starts but never cashed in. As a becalmed Panchal watched from the other end, Merai put on an exhibition until Panchal poked at Nayar to give Tare his first catch of the day.
Like Merai had before him, Parthiv quickly asserted his authority with a stunning drive on the up that screamed past Nayar on his follow-through, and a peachy cover-drive that showcased his form and his confidence. The Gujarat skipper was industrious even as Merai pulled back, the third-wicket pair gradually eating into Mumbai’s modest total.
As he has done all season, however, Merai threw away a good thing, reaching out to drive a wide Nayar away-swinger and putting Tare in business again as the Mumbai skipper broke his own record for the most dismissals by a ‘keeper in one season of the Ranji Trophy. Merai had helped Parthiv add 69 for the third wicket, but the promised land was still some distance away when he trudged off to the changing-room at 106 for 3.
In strode Juneja, and immediately alternated between the sublime and the ridiculous even as Parthiv’s driving continued to be of the highest order. Both batsmen scored rapidly, and mainly through boundaries, as Mumbai looked helpless, waiting for things to happen rather that making them happen. Tare perhaps missed a fourth seamer, given how sparingly he used his two left-arm spinners, and as the heads began to drop, Gujarat rattled up the runs in the second session.
Between lunch and tea, Gujarat amassed 130 in 29 overs for the loss of Merai, and looked set to tighten the screws when that man Nayar again provided the breakthrough, nicking Parthiv off 10 short of what would have been a brilliant hundred. The skipper had put on 120 with Juneja and taken his team to within two of the Mumbai total, and even though the lead was quickly established, Gujarat didn’t help their cause by the soft dismissals of Juneja, attempting a pull in hope and skying to cover, and Rujul Bhatt, scooping Sandhu to point.
That seemed to energise Sandhu, who bowled a brilliant final spell and had the mortification of seeing Tare put down Chirag Gandhi. For Mumbai, it was that kind of a day when, for various reasons, very little went their way. Gujarat had the rub of the green, and will definitely feel they should have done more with their chances.