Mumbai demolish Services to enter 44th Ranji final
Mumbai 454 for 8 dec. (Agarkar 145, Tare 120, Nayar 70, Tendulkar 56) drew with Services 240 (Swain 74, Yashpal 58, Kulkarni 5-33, Thakur 3-68)
Mumbai entered their 44th Ranji Trophy final, doing the clinical business that was expected of them, despite hurdles of inclement weather and wet wickets in their semi-final against Services. In an extended session of an extra sixth day at the Air Force Station Palam ground, they dismissed Services for 240 and progressed into the final on first-innings lead.
Dhawal Kulkarni picked up five wickets, which included a precise demolition of the lower order with figures of 4 for 15 on the final morning when the Services batting came undone. They lost their last seven wickets for 54 runs in 27.1 overs, extending the play shortly into the lunch break. For Services, who finished this Ranji season with results well beyond expectations, it was a particularly disappointing morning. "It's not losing that matters," said a sombre Services manager Deepak Bhaskar, "it was the manner of how we lost." Once their overnight batsmen were gone, Services lost, well, very quickly.
For Mumbai, the result brought with it relief as a hailstorm had rendered the match beyond an outright result and the weather had complicated the simplicity of trying to set up the first-innings lead. The semi-final witnessed late starts, a hailstorm that led to a sopping wet wicket and weak light that kept cutting off scheduled hours. Monday was the first of the six days in which play started on time and Mumbai made it count.
Mumbai captain Ajit Agarkar, who was named the Man of the Match, said, "You don't want it to end that way. [through a toss]. We were hoping to get 100-120 overs to bowl at Services but we were lucky to get more than that."
Mumbai struck early when they broke the 114-run partnership of the overnight batsmen Soumya Swain and Yashpal Singh, just over half an hour into the morning. The Mumbai attack had concentrated on Yashpal's off-side, in the belief that he would nick one to the cordon behind him. Trying to defend one from Shardul Thakur that moved away, Yashpal was out for 58, caught behind by Aditya Tare.
Left-arm spinner Vishal Dabholkar got the old ball to jump, pushed Swain on the back foot and had him caught by first slip Wasim Jaffer in his second over of the morning. Rajat Paliwal, Services' most consistent batsman all season, then played on to Kulkarni. His defensive dab left enough space between bat and pad for the ball to rattle the stumps. The new ball was just over four overs away and Services were 203 for 6.
Once it was taken, Kulkarni and Thakur went after the tail with menace and precision, three of the last four wickets caught behind by Tare. Agarkar said his medium-pacers had "bowled their hearts out" on a wicket that had actually eased up and rid itself off the vagaries of the first two days.
The cruelty of the situation will not be lost on Services who had the best of the wicket to play on, having being rolled diligently for two days following the hailstorm and heavy showers late Friday and early Saturday. Bhaskar said the Services batsmen had let themselves down. "We wanted to bat through the day and were capable of doing so," he said, adding that the Uttar Pradesh bowling that the Services batsmen had overcome contained more "variety" than Mumbai. That would no doubt elicit a snarl out of the Mumbai pacemen, who wrapped up the Services first innings in less than 35 overs on Monday. Mumbai's big picture plan involved few words and all deeds, Agarkar saying, "It had been a question of bowling seven good balls today."
The moment the last wicket fell, Avishek Sinha's, after a defiant 22 which lasted over an hour, play was called off. Both sets of players were given a brief talk by the match referee B Kalyanasundaram, who announced the reasons for giving the Man of the Match to Agarkar and offered appreciation and applause for the ground staff to enable a sufficient portion of play to push this game into a result beyond the toss.
As the Services management had planned, even while trying to consider Sachin Tendulkar "just a player", Tendulkar came into their dressing room after the match and five minutes turned to 15. Tendulkar discussed preparation and application and approach, and of all he said, strike bowler Suraj Yadav remembered this one: "You will meet with difficulties of all types from all directions - only you can find and you have to find your way out of them." Yashpal Singh's mind was drawn to advice about attitude: for success in any field comes with immersing yourself in it to a degree of extreme involvement and madness.
It marked an end to the Services campaign this season which began as early as May with an Inter-Services tournament that was brought forward by a few months. It helped them pick a team well in time for the start of the Ranji season. Services will be left dealing with mixed feelings: having earned a few stripes for their effort and, from this semi-final, a few emotional wounds.
Mumbai now move onto a home final, with Agarkar himself having played and won six. The last time Mumbai lost a Ranji Trophy final, they were still called Bombay when Haryana beat them in 1990-91. If there are calls to induct Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja into the Saurashtra squad, Mumbai believes there is good reason to call up Rohit Sharma and if available, Ajinkya Rahane too.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo