Mumbai Diary - Day 1

Sidelights from the Ranji Trophy final between Mumbai and Saurashtra at the Wankhede

Missing out

Young Saurashtra off-spinner Vishal Joshi must be wondering what he did wrong. The 23-year-old was Man of the Match in the semi-final against Punjab with a nine-wicket haul and would have hoped to play in the final against Mumbai. But a seaming track at the Wankhede Stadium moved captain Jaydev Shah to drop Joshi for medium pacer Saurya Sanandiya, as left-arm spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja and off-spinning all-rounder Kamlesh Makvana held their places. Considering the plight of Saurashtra’s batting, no amount of bowling reinforcements would have saved them the day.

Voluntary demotion

A wicket fell. Then another, and then another. But still no signs of
Jaydev Shah emerged from the dressing room. The Saurashtra skipper,
who normally bats at No.4, dropped himself down the order, possibly on
account of difficult conditions. The bespectacled Aarpit Vasavada was
bumped up, as was the prolific Sheldon Jackson, and Shah walked out
only after the fall of the fourth wicket. Staying away from the middle
was possibly the only way of protecting his scalp. Shah lasted just
six deliveries before getting out for a duck, as father Niranjan, the
BCCI Secretary, watched on morosely from the pavilion.

Rousing record

Mumbai’s Ranji record on their home ground is impeccable, as it should
be considering how comprehensively they have dominated India’s premier
domestic competition. They have won 64 of the 123 matches they have
played at the Wankhede and lost just 10 times.  Their overall record
in finals is 39 wins from 44 title clashes, streets ahead of Bengal’s
2 from 13 and Karnataka’s 6 from 12. Little wonder then that the
following the team’s fortunes commands is immense. Former cricketer
and administrator Madhav Mantri, nine years shy of completing a
century on earth, was seen at the ground in time for the morning
start. A bossy first session would have made it totally worthwhile!

Reverse tactics

Electing to bat and piling on the agony is standard procedure in
Indian domestic cricket. A moist track, however, allowed Mumbai
captain Ajit Agarkar to put the opposition in, a move that paid almost
instant dividend. On a pitch with assistance for the seamers, Dhawal
Kulkarni earned the breakthrough in the second over of the day. He
turned in a superlative first spell of 7-4-6-2 to flatten Saurashtra
before they had time to acquaint themselves to the environment of
their biggest match in over half-a-century. The pressure that Kulkarni
built was cashed in on by left-arm spinner Dabholkar, against whom the
batsmen sought release only to lose out in the end.

Away and missed

Their most prolific batsmen – Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja –
away on national duty, Saurashtra found the going tough against an
attack not known to be especially incisive. A lot had to do with the
pitch. Reared on a flat surface and lightning outfield at home in
Rajkot, the visiting side was all at ends on a pitch that fostered
lateral movement and had some carry. With his state’s Ranji dreams in
tatters, Pujara would be hoping he gets to play at least the dead
fifth ODI against England, instead of watching Saurashtra crumble from
the Indian bench.

Crowd support

Trust cricket administrators to cash in on any given opportunity. In
view of Sachin Tendulkar playing the Ranji Trophy final between Mumbai
and Saurashtra, the Maharashtra Cricket Association decided to charge
for entry to the ground. Still, a crowd of some two thousand had
trickled into the stadium by lunch, and made their presence felt
through sporadic cheers for their most worshipped cricketer. The
Garware Pavilion and the Vijay Merchant Pavilion were moderately
populated, while the Sachin Tendulkar Pavilion, although locked down,
bore a steady stream of trespassers clambering over from the adjacent

All-round expertise

It isn't just Abhishek Nayar's dependable batting and ugainly stance
that have made him a talking point. This season the all-rounder has
also brought Mumbai crucial wickets. Just when Saurashtra were
launching a rearguard through Aarpit Vasvada and Kamlesh Makvana,
Nayar's deceptive medium pace put an end to the fledgeling
partnership. As Mumbai searched for wickets in the post lunch session,
Nayar removed both set batsmen just before tea, throwing the visiting
team back on the mat. The 29-year-old is closing in on 1,000 calendar
runs and is currently 56 behind the season-leader, Punjab's Jiwanjyot
Singh. Nayar will definitely get a shot at the top spot on Sunday.