Haryana v Mumbai, Ranji Trophy, Group A, 3rd day October 29, 2013

Tendulkar fifty holds Mumbai hopes

Mumbai 136 and 201 for 6 (Tendulkar 55*, Pawar 47, Mohit 2-65) trail Haryana 134 and 241 by 39 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

This match has had everything an Indian first-class match doesn't. Capacity crowds, a legend playing, extensive security. It would have been a pity had it not produced exciting cricket. The green pitch on a high water table have ensured that people who came only to watch Sachin Tendulkar have been treated to three action-packed days. The advantage has never stayed with one side for too long, and heading into the final day, Mumbai need 39 more, and Tendulkar, batting on 55, is the only specialist batsman left.

Mornings, with the overnight moisture, have been the toughest time to bat here. It is still anybody's game. The village of Lahli, and the nearby city of Rohtak, could not have asked for a better finish. Haryana can win. Tendulkar can also hit the winning runs. They've already watched him make a fifty. It would have been complete paisa vasool, had tickets not been free.

This morning, Harshal Patel managed to push the target for Mumbai to 240. He and Mohit Sharma then gave Ajinkya Rahane and Kaustubh Pawar a torrid time. Wasim Jaffer uncharacteristically tried being too positive too early and perished. Then began the examination. Every now and then, perfectly straightforward looking length deliveries would shoot up alarmingly. The ones that didn't, would zip past with venom. 

Getting beaten was not a bad outcome for the batsman at all. It was far better than having your gloves pounded, which happened a few times. Mostly, it was Pawar who copped them. Pawar is the doughty kind. He took treatment, did not try to hit out and fought to survive as long as he could. Rahane dealt with the challenge in his own way. Big stride forward, tight defence, solid pushes into gaps, and confident leaves. 

Rahane and Pawar battled through till after lunch. They had done the dirty work. But this wasn't the pitch where you could cash in after a morning survival. Both fell in their forties, Pawar to the tireless Mohit. Rahane was bowled by the offspin of Jayant Yadav, making way for the moment the crowd had waited for, largely with patience.

The prolonged, standing ovation was to be expected for Tendulkar, as was the guard of honour the Haryana players gave him. Some of the Haryana players even kept saluting the man as he walked between the two rows they had formed for him. They were met with a half-raised bat in acknowledgment. Tendulkar proceeded to touch the pitch and then his helmet with his gloves in his own show of respect, and buckled down to the task at hand.

They might have saluted him but Haryana were giving him no leeway with the ball. Mohit put in an outstanding effort, going on and on through the middle session. Tendulkar appeared quite focused, though, and after the initial few jitters, went on to play a calculated, intelligent innings, in the manner that has been the highlight of his later years. 

He left superbly against the fast bowlers. The front-foot stride was big and certain, as was the defence. What stood out, though, were the back-foot punches through cover off the quicks. Had this been an ODI outfield, he would have had several boundaries. It didn't matter how hard Mohit ran in. Tendulkar had enough time for the shot on this pitch. Once he even tried to steer a bouncer that was flying past his head over the keeper, but missed. He was ready with the sweep against the offspinner, who had a couple of loud shouts for lbw turned down. 

He played the percentage shots well, as VVS Laxman said he had started to as he grew older. The tuck to square leg produced several singles and twos. He was ready for sprinted singles to mid-on too, hardly ever in danger of falling short of his ground.

With Tendulkar in so much control, Haryana did well to keep up the discipline. Runs seldom came in clumps, and when they did on occasion, Haryana tightened up further immediately. The fielding was sharp, dives and slides plenty, the captain Ajay Jadeja leading the way at age 42.

Mumbai gave in to the squeeze at the end opposite to Tendulkar. Abhishek Nayar tried to bulldoze a drive out of nowhere and played on. Aditya Tare managed to run himself out, a freak direct hit from the deep midwicket boundary caught him napping on the third run. Hiken Shah tried to counter with more aggression, only to badly mis-hit a loopy drive off Mohit to mid-off.

Tendulkar and the mostly reliable Dhawal Kulkarni guided Mumbai past 200. Apart from them, Mumbai don't have much left. The Lahli crowd does not need the rest at all. It has been a fabulously sporting crowd till now. As Tendulkar gets Mumbai closer and closer, their loyalties might just be tested. Then again, if he hits the winning runs, they might not mind it.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo