Prasanna, Mahesh revive faltering Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu 250 for 6 (Prasanna 81*, Mahesh 34*, Badrinath 56, Sandhu 4-80) v Mumbai
About an hour before close of play on the first day at the Wankhede, Ramesh Powar tossed one up on Ramaswamy Prasanna's off stump. The ball pitched on a length, bounced a little, and drifted away slightly before taking an edge off the shoulder of Prasanna's bat. It flew to the right of the first slip, but the fielder, Suryakumar Yadav, was for some reason standing a little wider when he should have been clearly fine, considering the pitch was not spinning much. An annoyed Powar skipped in the air, clapping his hands in disgust as he turned back.
Prasanna got an easy four and ended the day 19 short of what could be his second century for TN. More importantly, his painfully constructed unbroken 111-run stand for the seventh wicket with Yo Mahesh helped the visitors recover from the depths at 139 for 6 to a modest 250 for 6 at stumps.
The Wankhede pitch has never been generous to spinners on the first day. But Mumbai's slow bowlers faltered with their lack of patience and poor lines. Powar, who usually flights the ball generously, was too slow in the air and offered width. Ankit Chavan, the left-arm spinner, was happy bowling either on the legs or too full. Prasanna and Mahesh used that indiscipline to their advantage as they resolutely rebuilt the innings and played out most of the final two sessions.
This was in total contrast to the pre-lunch passage that Mumbai dominated, after TN had lost their own 'Fab Four'. In the third over of the morning, Abhinav Mukund went chasing an angled delivery from Dhawal Kulkarni that was going wide of the off stump. The moisture in the pitch made the ball grip the surface, but Mukund, the second-highest run-getter of the season, stayed too far back and played away from his body, only to chop it onto the stumps.
TN came close to losing a wicket off the very next ball, when Kulkarni nipped one into S Badrinath's pads, but the inside edge saved the batsman. Badrinath quickly got into the saddle and was severe on Balwinder Sandhu, whom he took for four off-side boundaries in an over. TN crossed 60 runs in the first hour and Sandhu was duly removed from the attack. His first spell read 6-0-38-0.
Both Kulkarni and Sandhu, who was playing his third first-class match, initially failed to capitalise on the moisture by bowling short on a pitch where the ideal length was full. In Mumbai's last match at the ground, Sandhu had bagged a five-for against Punjab in his debut innings by resorting to fuller lengths, and moving the ball both ways.
It was an ideal situation for TN to take total control. But for some reason Badri was stuck on 49 for 12 deliveries. Even though he dispatched a Chavan full toss over mid-on for four, the sudden lull in scoring had distracted TN's most experienced batsman. Sandhu, coming in from the pavilion for his third spell, seamed a ball away from a length. Badrinath needlessly reached out to tap the ball to point, and played on.
More trouble followed off the very next deilivery. Sandhu bowled full and swung the ball into Dinesh Karthik, who lunged forward to defend. The ball had hit him in line with the leg stump, and was clearly moving down the leg side. Yet, umpire K Hariharan upheld Sandhu's appeal. The entire TN dressing room raised their arms in disbelief and let out a collective cry of frustration on seeing the replay over the video analyst's laptop, which highlighted Hariharan's mistake.
Then M Vijay, who had been moving through the gears, was smartly deceived by Kulkarni, with a ball that pitched on a full length and moved out. Onkar Gurav moved swiftly to his right to finish the catch.
This was familiar territory for Prasanna. He steadily erased Mumbai's illusion of control over the rest of the afternoon. Against Bengal, TN were in a similar position at 140 for 5 with only K Vasudevadas and Prasanna, the last recognised pair, remaining. Prasanna had scored a steady 67, in a 160-run stand for the fifth wicket, which was instrumental in TN reaching 391 and setting up a ten-wicket win.
Mahesh, who had 270 runs including two fifties going into the semis, had also been a valuable lower-order contributor for TN, and his presence spurred Prasanna on. Against Delhi both men had stood strong to rebuild the TN innings from 88 for 5, with Abhinav retired hurt. Their 86-run stand for the sixth wicket had stabilised the visitors before Mukund returned to take over and help them take the first-innings lead.
Once again today, Prasanna and Mahesh played the fire-fighting role convincingly.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo