Shaky Mumbai hang on for draw
Jharkhand 351 (Tiwary 238, Javed 4-79) and 278 for 7 dec (Jaggi 103*) drew with Mumbai 265 (Tare 67, Aaron 4-42) and 115 for 5 (Tare 36, Nadeem 2-23)
A delayed declaration from Jharkhand allowed a shaky Mumbai side to escape with a draw at the Wankhede Stadium, though the visitors picked up three crucial points for their first-innings lead. With the hosts effectively six down given seamer Akbar Khan's fractured hand, Jharkhand agreed to a stalemate halfway into the final hour, after having batted for an hour and 45 minutes in the morning.
Jharkhand were 262 ahead going into the final day and within an hour, Ishank Jaggi and Shahbaz Nadeem had stretched the lead beyond 325. In their first ever Ranji match against Mumbai, bottom-placed Jharkhand had an excellent chance of pushing for a rare outright win against the defending champions - Only eight times have Mumbai lost a Ranji game at home in 80 years.
But Indian cricket's love for individual landmarks, and the defensiveness of its domestic teams meant Jharkhand batted till Jaggi reached his century, which took another 45 minutes. Incredibly, they did not declare even after Jaggi was done with his prolonged celebration. Varun Aaron holed out in the deep and Shankar Rao trudged in. Finally, a couple of overs later, Jharkhand decided they were in a safe enough position, and closed the innings on 278 for 7 after consuming 24 overs on the day to set Mumbai an improbable 365 in 64 overs.
The ridiculousness of the "target" came through when Mumbai did not even manage to get one-third of the way, scraping to 115 for 5 in 57 overs. Nadeem said after the match he hadn't expected Mumbai to bat so defensively. "You can say we delayed [the declaration] but you can't be 100 percent sure," Nadeem said. "We should have tried a little more. I did not think they were going to bat like that. [Allowing Jaggi to get to his hundred] was also a factor."
With three points from five games going into this match, Jharkhand's chances of making the knockouts were almost over. Nadeem reasoned that though they had targeted victory while declaring, they also wanted to make sure they pocketed at least three points for the first-innings lead to try and avert a possible relegation scenario. "We wanted an outright win. That is why we declared. Otherwise we would have gone ahead and batted all the overs. We are out of the tournament but we also have to stay in the group."
Aaron, tweeting after the game, hinted at Jharkhand getting the moral victory.
Finally a good win for us #jharkhand...feels goood..— Varun Aaron (@VarunAaron) December 9, 2013
Mumbai should consider themselves fortunate that Jharkhand were so cautious and played to the reputation of the 40-time champions. Had Jharkhand considered only Mumbai's current side, shorn of some first-choice players, they should have had no reason to be this wary.
Sushant Marathe, a wicketkeeper drafted as a specialist opener in place of Kaustubh Pawar, bagged a king pair, padding up to Rao and soon after, Wasim Jaffer fell cheaply to Aaron's pace and bounce for the second time in the game. He tried working a lifter to the leg side, only to pop a leading edge to extra cover. The hosts continued to slide after Siddhesh Lad flicked Aaron straight to midwicket. Like he had in the first innings, Aditya Tare steadied Mumbai again from 28 for 3 with a solid 36 before edging Nadeem to slip.
Abhishek Nayar, who had demoted himself from No. 5 to No. 6, then blocked 54 balls to make 1. Jharkhand had all but resigned themselves to the draw by this time, even letting Saurabh Tiwary bowl an over of harmless offbreaks. There had been no sign of Aaron since his post-lunch spell of 5-2-20-2. But in the 44th over, as Nayar stretched forward to block his 54th delivery, the ball popped up to short leg and Bhavik Thaker claimed the offering.
Awakened upon seeing Mumbai 78 for 5, Jharkhand took the game into the final hour and brought back Aaron for a three-over go. However, it was too little too late. The last specialist batting pair of Hiken Shah and Suryakumar Yadav had failed Mumbai on the third morning, but they survived 13 overs without too many alarms before the weary players shook hands at around 4 pm.
Jaggi's century against the champions will lie in the scorebook and Jharkhand might yet avoid relegation, but who squanders such a golden chance? Indian domestic sides regularly do.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo