Kulkarni gives Mumbai the advantage
Mumbai 19 for 0 trail Saurashtra 148 (Vasavada 55, Kulkarni 4-24) by 129 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Based on this season's form, there was no reason for Mumbai to start the final as overwhelming favourites against Saurashtra. But when it comes to big matches, the formbook can be ripped apart. At the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday, Mumbai showed exactly why they can be backed almost blindly in important contests, as they shredded the Saurashtra batting to take charge of the final.
Before the game, it was assumed that Mumbai's strategy, if they won the toss, would be to bury the opposition under a mountain of runs, as they had done to perfection in the quarter-final against Baroda. Surprisingly, they chose to bowl. At times, there were three slips and two gullies in place and Saurashtra's run-rate was almost always below two an over, even though the track was not a batsman-killer. It had decent bounce and a bit of movement in the morning, but was certainly not tricky enough to merit the visitors' collapse to 50 for 5. Perhaps Saurashtra were overwhelmed by the occasion, and Ajit Agarkar looked to exploit that by banging in a bouncer on the first ball of the match.
Agarkar's new-ball partner Dhawal Kulkarni was the star of the morning session with his opening spell of 7-4-6-2 that kept the Saurashtra batsmen on edge. Opener Sagar Jogiyani retreated towards leg and pushed his bat out, edging to second slip in the second over of the day. Rahul Dave, unsure whether to duck or pull a Kulkarni short ball, got himself tangled up before providing another slip catch. One of the best deliveries of the day was the one that accounted for Sheldon Jackson, Saurashtra's highest run-getter this season with centuries in the quarter-final and semi-final. Kulkarni got it to bounce and swerve away just a touch, making Jackson prod the ball to the keeper. He finished the innings with figures of 21.3-13-24-4.
The experienced opener Shitanshu Kotak hardly played a forceful shot in his two-hour stay, as he tried to stabilise the rocky innings. He fell, though, in a manner which had some resemblance to his semi-final dismissal - caught at slip while trying to force a spinner off the backfoot.
While Saurashtra struggled, their captain, Jaydev Shah, down with a fever, decided to demote himself from his regular No. 4 spot, walking in after four wickets had fallen. If he had hoped the extra time in the dressing room would have allowed time for the moisture in the track to evaporate, he needn't have bothered as he clipped left-arm spinner Vishal Dabholkar to midwicket for a duck.
Saurashtra showed more spine after lunch with Aarpit Vasavada, the bespectacled left-hand batsman who has been one of their success stories this year, battling to a half-century filled with slaps and edges around point. Kamlesh Makwana, a regular source of runs in the lower order, also resisted and the pair cautiously played out almost the entire session.
With the track flattening out, Saurashtra raising hopes of a competitive total and Mumbai's bowlers unable to make the breakthrough, the home side turned to their crisis man, Abhishek Nayar, who duly delivered by removing both batsmen a few minutes short of tea.
The Saurashtra tail hung around for a while, riding their luck as they repeatedly swished and missed at Kulkarni's deliveries outside off. The batting collapse aside, Jaydev Unadkat's run-out would have disappointed Saurashtra coach Debu Mitra, who had spoken before the match about how he had worked hard to imbibe some cricketing nous in the team during his long stint. Unadkat didn't show much evidence of that. The bowler, who took off a lackadaisical single after hitting to point, didn't try sliding his bat in to beat a throw from Dabholkar. He was out for 22. It was the sort of schoolboy mistake that famously makes Sunil Gavaskar livid.
Unadkat could have made up for that mistake as early as the first ball of Mumbai's innings when he jagged the ball in to beat Wasim Jaffer's bat only for the loud lbw appeal to be turned down due to the height. Mumbai reached stumps without losing any wickets and a bigger crowd than the thousand-odd who showed up on the first day will be on hand to cheer them on Sunday, when they look to bat Saurashtra out of the match.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo