Services' day despite Tendulkar, Nayar fifties
Mumbai 199 for 6 (Nayar 70, Tendulkar 56) v Services
When Services had said they would not be daunted by Mumbai's trophy-laden Ranji record, their star players or their reputation as the domestic tough guys, leaving aside the loyal belief of officers and men, civilians could have found that hard to imagine. At the end of the first day of their first Ranji semi-final in 44 years, Services certainly proved so. Mumbai ended a shortened day at 199 for 6 from 78 overs.
At stumps, Mumbai's last batting pair, Aditya Tare and Ajit Agarkar, were at the crease. Other than Abhishek Nayar and Sachin Tendulkar, no Mumbai batsman made more than 30 against the Services bowling.
While the Palam wicket was not easy to bat on, Services' three-man medium-pace attack responded to demands as well. They were persistent and accurate, sending down 62 of the 78 overs today, and were well-supported by their field.
If Mumbai have to enter their 44th Ranji final, it is up to Agarkar and his attack to provide telling evidence of the gap between the two semi-finalists. The runs scored by Mumbai, in theory, could look like being enough against Services' starless batting line-up. It is in practice, though, that Mumbai will have to make them count.
Both Nayar and Tendulkar had produced innings of composure which had been paced very well, until they each fell to strokes of extravagance. Following a slow morning session after play was delayed by half an hour due to a wet outfield, Mumbai launched a rousing counter-attack after lunch. Tendulkar carved into Nishan Singh and Suraj Yadav as Mumbai scored 62 runs at a run-a-ball.
On 49, Tendulkar tried to paddle Nishan to reach his fifty, but the ball raced away for four byes. A sedate single to square leg took him to 50 before he was presented the first of the Services slow bowlers, left-arm spinner Avishek Sinha. It was like Tendulkar's eyes lit up. Sinha was deposited for six over long-on off the very first ball and on the second, Tendulkar skied an attempted slog-sweep, and was caught by the retreating mid-on, Nakul Verma.
"Luck," a Serviceman chuckled at the end of the day about getting Tendulkar. "A plan," said another. "He had played so many medium-pacers and we held off the spinner for so long that when he saw one, he went for his big shots." Sinha had come on to bowl in the 35th over. Whatever it was, Services' shrieks of celebration were louder than the noise of the 100-strong crowd.
Nayar picked up the slack after Tendulkar's departure and controlled the pace of the innings. Agarkar, the Mumbai captain, has called him "our man for the season" and that confidence and faith reflected in Nayyar's knock. From his awkward crouching stance against the quick bowlers, Nayar unfolds into a left-hander of height and poise when he meets the ball with his straight bat. Tendulkar's wicket had lifted some of the load off the Services' bowlers shoulders, their seamers having taken the post-lunch punishment. Nayar made the most of facing Sinha and the part-time slow-medium of Yashpal Singh. He picking 36 runs off them, went past fifty and went into tea with Tare for company and a partnership of 59 for the fifth wicket.
In Shadab Nazar's second over after tea, though Nayar played an expansive drive nicking an edge to first slip Suraj Yadav. The Services players admitted later that the ball had climbed a little on Nayar forcing the edge. Three balls later, Ankit Chavan was bowled around his legs, moving too far across his stumps trying to play the flick. Mumbai were teetering a little at 169-6, before Tare and Agarkar put up 30 before bad light stopped play.
It was the kind of total that makes electing to bat first look like a bad idea. Mumbai had been hit hard in the morning itself, when they lost their top three batsmen within the hour, reducing them 23 for 3. The loss of openers Kaustubh Pawar and Wasim Jaffer in eight balls came about as a result of helpful conditions, a moving ball, an attack committed to discipline and a stroke of luck. Pawar had struggled against Yadav, no runs given in one stretch for 34 balls, leading him to offer a nothing shot across the line to Yadav in the 9th over. In the next over came, Jaffer's reluctant departure, he was given out caught behind, poking at Nishan Singh.
The quick dismissals meant batting through the first session was going to be as much about leaving as it was about playing. To that extent, in their fourth-wicket stand of 81, both Tendulkar and Nayar were judicious and assured; Services' far less lauded batsmen know it is what will be expected of them. "A big job on small shoulders," said one of their players.
The wicket slowed down during the course of the day. When combined with the winter air and the wobbly ball, it is going to test the patience of every batsman. This Ranji semi-final is going to be a battathon of a very different nature.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo