Bengal thrive in helpful conditions
Mumbai 262 for 7 (Jaffer 80, Nayar 62, Shukla 4-35) v Bengal
The previous time the Brabourne Stadium hosted a Ranji Trophy game, it produced a run-fest, with the first innings staying incomplete at the end of the third day. The shade of green on the track for this game and some gentle breeze in the morning offered greater hope for the fast bowlers, and it wasn't surprising that Bengal captain Manoj Tiwary chose to bowl. His team responded well, especially Laxmi Shukla, who picked up four wickets, to boost Bengal who are desperately in search of an outright win after having lost two out of four games this season.
Mumbai had their share of fortune on a track that had good bounce with the ball often kicking off a good length, especially when Shukla was bowling. The Bengal fielders chipped in to make life easier on occasions as Wasim Jaffer was the beneficiary of a dropped catch. Though Bengal were not made to suffer much - Jaffer only got so far as 80 in a format he's dominated by making fielders toil for long hours - he stayed long enough to help Mumbai fight back from 46 for 3 in the company of Abhishek Nayar, with whom he was involved in a century stand.
Mumbai again picked themselves up after losing Jaffer and Nayar in the second session, with wicketkeeper Aditya Tare and Ankeet Chavan compiling a 56-run stand as part of a lower-order recovery that also acquired considerable momentum through quick runs. The Bengal bowlers worked hard - Shukla, in particular, bowled an extended first spell of nine overs - but weren't dominant and faced resistance that took Mumbai to 262 for 7.
Jaffer, who missed Mumbai's first three games of this season while on Haj, said the assistance to fast bowlers will last a while and 300 was a good total on this track. "I don't think it's going to flatten out," he said. "The help for the fast bowlers, especially, will remain for a while. The ball is spinning as well. So, if we go to 300, it'll be a very good score with the kind of bowling we have and the wicket, probably, will get a bit faster. It was a bit damp today, and the ball was swinging, but I think it's a decent score. We would have been happier if there were one or two wickets less. But the help will remain in the wicket."
Jaffer batted positively, though that also brought with it some risk on a track with a bit of life. He offered a half-chance at short leg at 5, and was put down by Arindam Das at second slip off Shukla when on 16. Shukla also got the ball to move back in, rapped Jaffer on the pads twice, but there were enough scoring opportunities on offer. Jaffer drove Shukla twice through the covers and used his feet well against the left-arm spin of Iresh Saxena, who was brought on, surprisingly, as early as the 11th over.
The early introduction of spin was to provide Bengal an opening, however, through the stumping of Kaustubh Pawar and Shukla struck twice in quick time after that to put Mumbai under pressure. Against a disciplined line outside off, and some away movement, Hiken Shah was caught-behind driving on the up. Rohit fell in a similar fashion, reaching forward to be caught by Wriddhiman Saha diving to his right, for 1, as his counterpart Tiwary, also a possible contender for a place in the Indian side, watched on from mid-off.
While the seamers tested the batsmen from one end, Jaffer and Nayar scored freely off the sole specialist spinner, Saxena. Jaffer was strong both sides of the wicket, driving him past cover and going over the top past mid-on and midwicket. Nayar swept well, collecting two successive boundaries through deep square leg and deep midwicket, and even launching Saxena for a six towards cow corner. The stand was broken abruptly in the first over of Shukla's second spell, shortly after the pair had put on 100 together, when Jaffer got a leading edge to Abhishek Jhunjhunwala at extra cover.
It got worse for Mumbai when Nayar dragged one back on from Veer Pratap Singh to make it 172 for 5, but there was some spunk left in the batting.
Tare has opened the batting for Mumbai, dropping down this time with the return of Jaffer, and had some close shaves as he repeatedly edged the bowlers over the slips and past gully. Chavan gave him good company in a 56-run partnership before adding a further 20 with Dhawal Kulkarni, who struck Saxena for two straight sixes over long-on.
But Bengal remained patient and dismissed the pair before stumps, both edging to slip and one of them, Chavan, giving Shukla his fourth wicket. The innings could have been wrapped up today itself had Ramesh Powar, a capable hand in the lower order, not been dropped by Das, again, at second slip. Captain Tiwary appeared happy at stumps, applauding his team-mates, but the let-offs in the field did consume time and cost runs that Bengal will hope do not affect the outcome.
Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo