NEW DELHI: Following the frustration of successive days of lost play, Sunday provided 66 overs of intriguing cricket, at the end of which the Ranji Trophy semifinal between Services and Mumbai was still anybody's game.
Mumbai resumed their first innings after another delayed start around noon and raised 74 runs in just nine overs before declaring. A gauntlet of 454 was thus thrown to the home team, which responded brilliantly through stand-in skipper Sowmya Ranjan Swain (64 batting) and veteran stonewaller Yashpal Singh (43 batting) to finish on 164/3 at the end of the fifth day.
IN THE OTHER SEMIS: Saurashtra thrash Punjab
With an extra day pressed into service on the morrow, Services need 290 more to gain the vital first innings lead, while Mumbai seven wickets to nail their 44th Ranji final. Services had last reached a Ranji Trophy final in 1957/58 and they still have their best batsman of the season – Rajat Paliwal – awaiting his turn to bat.They were served well by Swain and Yashpal in the last session as they thwarted a desperate visiting bowling attack for 92 runs, after their team faced potential disaster on 72/3.
Assuming Services won't make those 290 runs on Monday and if Mumbai fail to bowl them out, the winner of the game -- or at least the one who goes to the final -- will be decided by the toss of a coin.
The going wasn’t easy for Services early on. Ajit Agarkar opened the bowling and was picked for boundaries by Nakul Verma. A phase of quiet then descended. And the next four arrived only after 46 dot balls. Verma soon gave up the ghost, playing across to Dhawal Kulkarni to be trapped in front.
Ankeet Chavan’s left-arm spin had started to have an effect and he bowled a struggling Pratik Desai after the batsman yorked himself, having crawled to four off 50 balls.
Services were 22/2 when Swain walked in. Anshul Gupta, meanwhile, was stroking it nicely. He biffed Chavan straight down the ground and drove seamer Shardul Thakur for four as tea approached. Gupta’s edge off Thakur raced through between second slip and gully. When he was on 23, his flick off left-arm spinner Vishal Dabholkar was dropped at forward short leg by Hiken Shah. Gupta and Swain had added 50 when the former ran out of luck, and was caught at third slip off Thakur.
That was the end of Mumbai’s success for the day as Swain and Yashpal got together. Yashpal flicked authoritatively through mid-wicket for the bulk of his six boundaries. Swain, the most fluent batsman on the day, preferred rasping it through the off, often slashing through point.
Speaking later, Services coach Deepak Bhaskar defended the stodgy approach of his openers.
“The job of the openers is to take the shine off the new ball. I concede that Pratik was bit scratchy, but these things happen. Our top order has not clicked this season. We will go all guns blazing and try to take first innings lead. The job of Swain and Yashpal is only half done yet, and they have to continue in the same vein tomorrow.”
Earlier, Mumbai made the best of the nine overs they chose to play for. Agarkar lofted the first delivery, bowled by Shadab Nazar, for four, and carted Nishan Singh for six over long on. Aditya Tare (120) was caught behind off Nazar for and not long after Mumbai had crossed 400, Agarkar (145) too was caught going for a big one over mid wicket.
Mumbai 1st innings (Overnight: 380-6)
A Tare† c †Sarabjit b Nazar 120
A Agarkar* c sub (Khalid) b Sinha 145
D Kulkarni not out 20
S Thakur not out 10
Extras (b-6, lb-4, w-1, nb-4) 15
Total (8 wickets; 152 overs) 454 declared
FOW: 7-415 (Tare, 147.4 ov), 8-435 (Agarkar, 150.1)
Bowling: Yadav 24-9-49-2; Nishan 32-6-89-1; Nazar 44-11-142-3; Sinha 32-8-98-2; Yashpal 5-0-23-0; Verma 9-1-33-0; Desai 5-2-6-0; Paliwal 1-0-4-0.
Services 1st innings
N Verma lbw b Kulkarni 13
P Desai b Chavan 4
A Gupta c Pawar b Thakur 31
S Swain* not out 64
Y Singh not out 43
Extras (b-4, lb-2, w-1, nb-2) 9
Total (3 wickets; 57 overs) 164
FOW: 1-14 (Verma, 10.2 ov), 2-22 (Desai, 15.4), 3-72 (Gupta, 30.4)
Bowling: Agarkar 8-3-29-0; Kulkarni 11-4-18-1; Dabholkar 11-1-33-0; Chavan 12-4-33-1; Thakur 11-0-35-1; Nayar 4-0-10-0.