Agarkar, Tare swing match Mumbai's way
Mumbai 380 for 6 (Agarkar 113*, Tare 108*) v Services
Centuries from Aditya Tare and Ajit Agarkar helped Mumbai take a large, confident step towards a sizeable first-innings total in their Ranji Trophy semi-final against Services. On a slow, sluggish day of cricket, interrupted by bad light and a spot of rain, Mumbai had reached 380 for 6 when play was suspended as the light worsened.
Tare was batting on 108, his second century for Mumbai this season, while Agarkar's 113 not out was his first Ranji century since the 2009-2010 season against Himachal Pradesh.
The unbroken 211-run seventh-wicket partnership between Tare and Agarkar has given Mumbai an iron-fisted control of the semi-final and Services all the grief they would not have wanted after a promising first day. They lost their strike bowler and leading wicket-taker of the season, Suraj Yadav, who had to go off the field due to a twisted ankle after bowling four overs in the morning just shortly after the introduction of the new ball. Off the 65 overs of play that happened today, Mumbai scored 181 runs without losing a wicket.
Tare's was the slower of the two centuries, uncharacteristic when it comes to his batting, but typical of his performances for Mumbai this season. He has opened the batting in five matches, batted at No. 3 and 4, and No. 7 once, before being slotted into the conventional No. 6 slot meant for the wicketkeeper. The value of his contributions, said Agarkar, is what has enabled Mumbai to play five bowlers. Tare is better known for flamboyant shot-making but on Thursday, collected the runs with a quality well-known in the old Mumbai school of batting - accumulate when available, don't throw your wicket away and don't get ahead of yourself. Tare showed patience to wear down the bowlers, and did not try to force pace with dazzling but dangerous improvisation.
Agarkar thinks Tare's batting has been exceptional this season, and the performance in Palam, was a sign that he had "adapted to a demanding situation." In keeping with his better-known side, he pulled out a reverse sweep against left-arm spinner Avishek Sinha to take Mumbai past 300, and got to his century by guiding a yorker-length ball from Nakul Verma to third man for four.
At the other end Agarkar moved at a quicker clip, but played without risk, offering occasional entertainment with attractive strokes around the ground. Shadab Nazar was punched off the backfoot through covers, Nishan Singh was driven straight down the ground and the spinner Sinha punished similarly. This was his fourth first-class century and his second Ranji century for Mumbai. His first two first-class centuries have come in unusual surroundings - in Peshawar for India A on a 1997-98 tour and the second at a Lord's Test for India in 2002 - before he scored two more for Mumbai. He was asked to name his favourite shot of the day among his fourteen boundaries at Palam and Agarkar said, dead-pan, "the single to get to a hundred."
Despite their sturdy performance in the field on day one, Services found the second line in their bowling attack significantly weaker from the discipline of their three medium-pacers. When they began to resort to part-time options as the long second session dragged on, Mumbai accelerated, scoring 23 in the last five overs before tea. In the final 15-over second session curtailed by bad light, Mumbai scored 59. Start of play was delayed by 45 minutes due to bad light, then truncated after 9.5 overs due to the combination of bad light and a light drizzle. The very long second session produced 97 off 40.1 overs.
Mumbai now have the collective gleam in their eye: the wicket, Agarkar said, had required the batsmen to grind, slow but holding steady. "We've got enough batting to survive on a difficult wicket and surviving today was important. It's a six day match and we want as many runs as we can get."
The Services camp will be nursing hurting calves and some pride this evening, but said they could only do the one thing they knew best: fight. "We've got this chance after so long, we won't let it go." While the weather and the wicket promise many a slow session of cricket, a tussle underneath the surface will always be on. It is what Ranji Trophy semi-finals should ideally be about.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo