Mandeep ton puts Punjab in strong position
Punjab 288 for 4 (Mandeep 102*, Inder 76, Jiwanjot 42) v Mumbai
The Mumbai slip cordon failed to support the good work of their bowlers, dropping plenty of catches to let Punjab gain the upper hand on the opening day of the Ranji Trophy Group A tie at the Wankhede Stadium.
Riding on an unbeaten century by stylish batsman Mandeep Singh, who was given three reprieves, and his 128-run stand for the third wicket with Ravi Inder Singh, Punjab ended the first day at a strong 288 for four. Had the Mumbai fielders grabbed five chances, three of them offered by Mandeep in the last session, the 39-time champions could have had the better of their opponents, who are the only team to have qualified for the knockouts so far.
With the Wankhede pitch wearing a different look to the one used for the Test match a fortnight ago, captain Ajit Agarkar's decision to bowl first wasn't a surprise. While Agarkar and Dhawal Kulkarni kept it tight, the in-form Punjab openers Jiwanjot Singh and Karan Goel saw off the first hour without much trouble.
However, sensing that the Pavilion End was offering more assistance for the quicks, Agarkar changed ends after bowling four overs from the Tata End and the move worked. He managed to extract additional bounce and Goel, who had hit a sweetly-timed boundary off Balwinder Singh Sandhu in the previous over, edged it to Ajinkya Rahane at second slip.
While Jiwanjot, who has been piling on runs in his maiden first-class season, was cautious, Ravi Inder Singh didn't take time to get going, thanks to a flurry of edges that flew off his bat to the vacant third-man boundary. With medium pacer Sandhu, playing his first match of the season, and offspinner Ramesh Powar looking lacklustre, Agarkar introduced allrounder Abhishek Nayar in the first session itself. And Nayar, who had bowled a dream spell of 19-12-13-6 against Bengal four days ago, created a chance immediately. Nayar forced a nick off Jiwanjot but wicketkeeper Aditya Tare's diving attempt went in vain.
After being given a life and with lunch approaching, Jiwanjot went into a shell. Left-arm spinner Ankeet Chavan, introduced in the 32nd over, got an edge off the batsman off the first ball he bowled. But Rohit Sharma failed to latch on to the edge while diving to his right. After surviving chances on 39 and 41, Jiwanjot went in to the break having added 51 runs with Ravi Inder, with Punjab at 108 for one.
But the two chances didn't prove costly for Mumbai as Jiwanjot prodded at one from Kulkarni soon after lunch and provided a catch to Hiken Shah. The rest of the session was dominated by Ravi Inder and Manpreet, who displayed all the strokes in their array at will. While Ravi Inder preferred to score boundaries in a gentle fashion, Mandeep, who led Punjab in the last three games in Harbhajan Singh's absence, adopted a more aggressive approach.
Mandeep waged an intentional attack on Chavan, who was bowling a tight line and length. In the 47th over, he slog-swept the lanky spinner for a boundary twice, and then danced down the pitch to hoick him over the long-on boundary. Perhaps the young batsman was relishing being relieved of his captaincy duties as he continued to pile on runs at will.
In the last session though, Mandeep seemed to have repeated lapses of concentration, but the Mumbai fielders repeatedly came to his rescue, dropping him on 67, 73 and 93 in the slips. With so much help from the opposition, Mandeep did not falter in converting his maiden fifty of the season into his fifth first-class century. The milestone came with an elegant flick off Kulkarni that raced to the midwicket fence.
Mumbai, however, managed to have the last laugh on the day when Uday Kaul became the third left-hand batsman to have been caught behind with just two balls remaining in the day's play. Though Kulkarni gave the hosts the much-needed breakthrough, they would be aware that the job is far from being done. And if the fielders - all of them specialist batsmen - don't back their bowlers, the line-up, without Wasim Jaffer who had to leave for Lucknow due to a close relative's death, will have to work doubly hard with the bat.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo