Mumbai all but through to quarters after Jaffer 171
Mumbai 323 for 5 (Jaffer 171, Shah 82) lead Gujarat 244 (Parthiv 101, Chavan 3-54) by 79 runs
Wasim Jaffer has been Mumbai's go-to man for the better part of his 17 seasons with the domestic giants. As a result, it was unusual for the prolific batsman to go into the last game of the league stage of a Ranji Trophy season without a century under his belt. But when Mumbai required Jaffer to deliver, the opening batsman came good with a big hundred to help the hosts attain the first-innings lead against Gujarat in a Group A match at the Dr DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.
Thanks to Jaffer's 171 and his 213-run partnership with Hiken Shah for the third wicket, Mumbai ended day two at 323 for five, 79 runs ahead of Gujarat's first-innings total of 244. And the three points that they have in all likelihood ensured for the first-innings lead mean that the 39-times champions are all but assured of a place in the quarter-finals.
Gujarat, on the other hand, will hope for Madhya Pradesh to register a come-from-behind victory against Saurashtra in Rajkot in order to progress to the last eight.
The day belonged to one man, who is reputed for his stylish batting. With Mumbai starting the day at 24 for 1, they had to avoid early damage. And the manner in which Jaffer started the day would have rung alarm bells for Gujarat's bowlers. In the second over of the day, Jaffer first flicked left-arm seamer Rush Kalaria through midwicket and then drove him on the on-side for boundaries. In the next over, he dispatched Ishwar Choudhary's short ball to the midwicket fence with an elegant pull. And then drove Kalaria straight down the ground for his fourth boundary of the morning.
Jaffer, who had missed the first three games of the season since he was on pilgrimage, and then missed the Punjab tie due to a close relative's death, continued his onslaught, despite Kushang Patel getting rid of Aditya Tare. And after completing his fifty off left-arm spinner Rakesh Dhurv, the most successful spinner this season, Jaffer cut loose.
Jaffer plundered 15 runs in a Dhurv over, hitting a six and a boundary over mid-on and then pulling the bowler through midwicket. This gave ample time to left-hand Shah to get into his groove. As a result, with Jaffer scoring at will, Shah could afford to play out a lot of dot balls before starting to rotate the strike regularly.
Jaffer ended the century drought by steering Kushang Patel to the third-man boundary after lunch. His 30th Ranji hundred came after a year, the first since his twin hundreds against Saurashtra while batting in the middle order last year. The century also brought him within one ton of Ajay Sharma's record of 31 Ranji centuries.
Jaffer was all set to carry on into the third day's play. But soon after Shah fell short of his fourth century of the season, Jaffer had a lapse in concentration. With Gujarat opting for the second new ball after Mumbai had gained the lead, Jaffer first played an uppish drive off Kalaria straight to Chirag Gandhi, who made a mess of it. The next ball, another lazy drive took the edge of his willow and flew into the slips, where Samit Gohel took an excellent diving catch. It ended Jaffer's commendable effort, which included 21 boundaries and a six.
But by then, Jaffer, who termed the knock as "satisfying, especially since it was important for me to be around till we ensured the lead", had taken Mumbai to a virtual safety. And the former Mumbai captain had also relieved his team-mates of being under pressure over New Year's Eve and the New Year's Day, since the last two days' play is largely going to be an inconsequential for them.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo