Vijay leads Rest of India with a hundred
Rest of India 330 for 5 (Vijay 116, Dhawan 63) v Mumbai
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
The competition for batting spots for the upcoming Test series against Australia appears to have grown tougher with Murali Vijay scoring a stylish century against Mumbai on the opening day of the Irani Cup. A prominent shade of green on the Wankhede Stadium pitch prompted Mumbai's stand-in captain Abhishek Nayar to bowl first, but it eased out considerably and the bowlers didn't help themselves by providing ample scoring opportunities to a combative Rest of India top and middle order.
Virender Sehwag wasn't among them, out due to an upset stomach at a time when a stint in the middle after being dropped from the ODI series against England would have helped, but Rest of India had enough ammunition to dominate the Mumbai bowling for the bulk of the day and post 330 for 5 at stumps.
Dhawal Kulkarni bowled a testing first spell and Nayar proved the best of the Mumbai bowlers, his third spell of nine overs spread across two sessions fetching two wickets, and though they tried hard - Kulkarni extracted some unsettling movement early on and Nayar got the ball to reverse - they lacked support as the Rest of India batsmen pierced the field consistently, approached their innings with confidence, and scored freely.
India's selection panel, including Sandeep Patil, the chief selector, was present at the venue and Vijay didn't take long to make an impression, shrugging off his initial rustiness against the moving ball with a couple of lovely punches off Javed Khan. The shots were infused with a timing that had deserted Vijay through the Ranji season in which he had managed a highest score of just 42. As in the Ranji Trophy final, Shardul Thakur was off the mark and Vijay took him for three boundaries in an over, driving him through mid-off, imparting enough force through his wrists to flick him away past midwicket and standing tall to punish him when he bowled short.
The left-arm orthodox pair of Vishal Dabholkar and Ankeet Chavan found little assistance, and the bulk of the responsibility fell on an inexperienced pace attack led by Kulkarni in the absence of Ajit Agarkar and Zaheer Khan. There were several half-volleys on offer, so were short balls, with adequate width for both openers to open up. Vijay feasted on a generous dose of scoring opportunities through the off side, but survived a caught-behind chance on 79 as Thakur overstepped. He drove him for four before slashing Kulkarni for six, then punching him through midwicket to raise his century - almost five months ago, he smashed 266 in the season opener, an Irani Cup tie against Rajasthan, his last major contribution.
Vijay's opening partner Shikhar Dhawan will feel he missed out, having built a century stand, after looking especially strong through the V and being severe against anything pitched short. But his innings was cut short when he reached out to drive Thakur, only to get an inside edge and lose his off stump. Likewise with another Test aspirant, Manoj Tiwary, who drove soundly through the covers and even, still relatively early in his innings, walked well across to flick Javed to the boundary. But he tried that once too often, to be trapped in front by Nayar when on 37, standing his ground in disbelief long after the umpire had raised his finger.
Even after Nayar managed to break through Vijay's defences after tea, two other contenders, Ambati Rayudu and Suresh Raina, ensured the innings retained its tempo. Thakur leaked more runs, Rayudu went past 5000 runs in first-class cricket during an attacking half-century and Raina targeted the left-arm spinners, stepping out to Chavan to launch him for six. Rayudu wasn't as comfortable against spin, and edged Rohit Sharma to slip, another Rest of India batsman who would, presumably, have fallen short of his own expectations in front of some key decision-makers ahead of a big Test series.
Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo