First-class crowd laps up first-class cricket
Lahli is probably one of the last places where you will expect a decent turnout to appreciate and enjoy a thrilling day of first-class cricket. But not only did the crowd have its fill of watching and clamouring for Sachin Tendulkar's attention, it also generously applauded both sides for some combative play.
It took the impending retirement of one of the greatest cricketers to bring so many heads to a ground considered remotely located even by locals. But once they were here, they did not confine themselves to only the man. It probably helped that he wasn't expected to bat today, and the mass exodus that followed his dismissal on day one wasn't repeating itself today.
Joginder Sharma set the tone in the morning with four wickets in four overs, including two off two deliveries. Mumbai added just 36 to their overnight total of 100 for 4, and 24 of those came from Dhawal Kulkarni's bat.
That got the crowd going early. Of course, they were supporting Haryana overall - while also chanting Tendulkar's name - and loved it when Sunny Singh and Rahul Dewan built the lead for the home side. Boundaries flowed, through covers, to third man. Zaheer Khan soon had a deep point in place, but refused to plug the leak at third man till quite late in the day. Mumbai kept conceding runs in the region, some via edges, others through intentional guides, and the crowd loved it.
They also observed the fielders keenly. A diving stop was immediately recognised with scattered applause, be it at short midwicket, cover or gully. A flying save down the leg side by the Mumbai keeper drew appreciation from all. This was surely not a gathering that had come to watch only big shots, although at times some asked for them.
Their fascination with Tendulkar was a constant accompaniment to the action. The man was also more reciprocal than he usually is. Normally, he acknowledges the hordes by waving a half-raised hand for a moment in their direction. Today, he not only raised his hands over his head and clapped, he also tipped his hat in the direction of the crowd on occasion. Towards the end of the day, the crowd became especially raucous in demanding Tendulkar's attention. He had to ask them to calm down, even as the wily Ajay Jadeja promptly pulled out of his stance with Zaheer steaming in.
Haryana were in the midst of a collapse at this point, against Zaheer and Vishal Dabholkar, the young left-arm spinner. Zaheer gave himself the most overs for Mumbai and was in full flow in a spell of menace and aggression, replete with bouncers and taunts. There is something about a fast bowler charging in than that gets a crowd going, and this one had already been going through the day. They lapped up everything in that passage of play.
Plays and misses by tailenders against a rampaging Zaheer, bouncers thudding into the keepers gloves past flailing batsmen, outside edges to slip, close leaves, the occasional powerful connection to deep mid-off, the brave defence, the repeated glares and words from Zaheer. There had to be some response from the home team. People had seen what drama Zaheer was capable of creating. Harshal Patel, the young fast bowler, provided them the release, hitting Dabholkar for a couple of big sixes in the penultimate over of the day. Those shots brought people to their feet. Prolonged, rapturous applause followed.
A tense final over from Zaheer, which the last Haryana pair managed to survive, dangled the promise of what should be a cracker of probably the last day of Tendulkar's final Ranji match. He can be reasonably expected to have a bat in the chase. Lahli must still be pinching itself for these two days. It will dream the best one is still to come.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo