Indore, Dec. 26 -- With only 136 runs required off 30 overs and nine wickets in hand, hosts Madhya Pradesh might have begun to fancy their chances in the high voltage Ranji match against Mumbai at Indore on Tuesday.
And given the indifferent form of Mumbai's premier bowler Zaheer Khan, they would have hardly expected any trouble in their way of achieving a well-deserved victory.
But Zaheer, dumped from the Test team, produced a performance which not only turned the match on its head but also ended speculation regarding his fitness. The pacer bowled 13 overs in his second spell claiming five wickets.
He first got Ankit Sharma caught at covers by Iqbal Abdullah and followed it up with Udit Birla's wicket, who edged an incoming delivery to be caught at second slip. Devendra Bundela raised the hopes of his team making a game from there.
But like the first innings, the MP skipper was found wanting when he was caught behind off a short delivery from Zaheer, 'keeper Aditya Tare taking a running catch.
Despite three blows in quick succession, MP were still very much in the game as centurion Jalaj Saxena (128) was in the form of his life and was getting runs at will after being reprieved on 40 by Suryakumar Yadav.
It was then that Abhishek Nayar ran Saxena out as he attempted a quick single with the hosts needing 78 runs in 17 overs and Mumbai banking on their bowlers to clinch an outright victory.
Nayar struck again when the highest scorer for MP in the first innings, Satyam Choudhary, was adjudged lbw before Zaheer removed Rahul Bakshi and Anand Rajan in consecutive overs.
Harpreet Singh though held fort at one end and kept the hopes alive for MP but as soon as he was castled by Nayar, the game was all but over.
With hopes fading away, last man Ishwar Pandey, who has claimed the most wickets this Ranji season. The hosts were still 44 short with 7.3 overs left and it appeared the outcome was just a formality. But the MP duo decided to take on the bowling and suddenly the Mumbai bowlers were gasping for breath as the last pair amassed 37 runs in 4.3 overs.
Amarjeet hit a huge six off Zaheer over long on and Pandey hit two consecutive deliveries of Nayar over covers for sixes.
With only 8 needed off 4.1 overs, Pandey again went for a big hit but was caught, handing Mumbai their first outright win this season.
Mumbai had declared their innings at 250 for five. The win added six points to Mumbai's tally and kept them afloat in the tournament with a match to go in the group stage.
Brief scores: Mumbai 304 & 250-5d (Nayar 62no) beat MP 244 & 303 (Saxena 128; Zaheer 5-79, Nayar 3-56) by 7 runs; Pts: Mum 6, MP 0.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.