Muzumdar's magic gives Mumbai the upper hand
Mumbai 513 for 5 (Mane 106, Jaffer 133, Muzumdar 119*, Kambli 55, Bahutule 64*) lead Tamil Nadu 294 by 219 runs
Tamil Nadu struck some crucial blows in the first two sessions at the Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, but a stroke-filled century by Amol Muzumdar put the game way beyond their reach. At tea, Mumbai had been only 93 ahead, with five wickets in hand. But it all changed with the unbeaten 131-run stand between Muzumdar and Sairaj Bahutule, and by the close the lead had mushroomed to a massive 219.
Mumbai were cruising at 236 for 0 overnight, but Tamil Nadu's decision to take the new ball first thing in the morning provided them with a whiff of a chance, as they prised out three wickets in the first half-hour. Somasetty Suresh, was rewarded for his disciplined medium-pace and eventually dismissed both the openers. He induced a faint edge from Vinayak Mane (106) and the catch was easily pouched by Dinesh Karthik behind the stumps (243 for 1). Wasim Jaffer began with a flourish, stroking a couple of boundaries with ease, but when he had made 133 he was undone by a one-handed reflex catch from Suresh. Jaffer pushed the ball firmly down the pitch, and Suresh grabbed it inches from the turf (257 for 2).
Bhavin Thakkar didn't spend too much time in the middle, but his unusual stance perplexed most of the spectators. He has a high backlift and his chest points towards the slip cordon, and you wonder how he consistently churns out vital knocks. There wasn't one today, though, as he was soon lbw for 7 (266 for 3).
Tamil Nadu nearly had a fourth immediately afterwards, when Vinod Kambli edged one to second slip. But the umpire, Subroto Porel, felt that the ball had bounced after hitting the bat, and gave Kambli the benefit of the doubt - and the TV replays were inconclusive. Kambli was then given some generous offerings on his pads, and he took full advantage. Muzumdar played the supporting role to a T, and they ensured there was no major collapse.
They continued in the same vein after lunch, and their hundred partnership came up in 136 minutes. But the second hour completely belonged to Tamil Nadu. Subramanium Badrinath, the part-time offspinner, extracted some turn and bounce at one end, while the medium-pacers bowled a restrictive line at the other. Frustration got the better of Kambli as he slapped a wide one to point (379 for 4). And Manoj Joglekar lasted only 10 balls before he gloved one to the wicketkeeper (382 for 5).
Only 18 runs had come in the 16 overs before tea - there was still hope of restricting the lead to below 150. Unfortunately for Tamil Nadu, the bowlers didn't maintain the same discipline after the interval, and the game drifted away again. Muzumdar danced down the track to the spinners and upset their rhythm, while Bahutule worked the ball around deftly.
Shots flowed all around the ground as Muzumdar approached his hundred, and there was one moment that encapsulated Tamil Nadu's frustration. Ganapathy was convinced that Muzumdar had edged one to the keeper, and they had a heated exchange after the appeal was turned down. The next ball was full and wide, and Muzumdar laced it through the covers ... and maintained his kneeling pose for a few seconds. The riposte was both fitting and majestic.
That partnership ensured that the game is virtually over as a contest. After the day's play, Tamil Nadu's players retreated into the dressing-room and began a long meeting. Meanwhile, the Mumbai team frolicked around in the outfield and indulged in a spot of volleyball and some friendly banter. With the Ranji Trophy now firmly in their grasp, why shouldn't they?