Natraj's ton robs Mumbai of win
Mumbai 501 for 9 dec (Shah 170, Jaffer 143) drew with Odisha 256 and 356 for 5 (Natraj 127*, Niranjan 59)
In an embarrassment of sorts, Mumbai could only manage three points from their home game against Odisha after being able to dismiss only three of the eight remaining batsmen on the final day at the Wankhede Stadium. Natraj Behera, who had scored an aggressive 130 in the first innings, smashed an unbeaten 127 in the second to deny the home side a win on a day Karnataka overtook them to assume the top spot in Group A.
Mumbai's next match will be against the table toppers in Bangalore followed by another away game against Gujarat. Their target, according to their captain Wasim Jaffer, will be to first ensure the first-innings lead. With Dhawal Kulkarni and Abhishek Nayar unavailable, the task won't be easy for an inexperienced Mumbai team.
That inexperience was on show as a young bowling line-up failed to make an impression on the Odisha batsmen. At the start of the fourth day, Mumbai had a 130-run cushion and would have hoped for a repeat of the third day's morning session during which their seamers ran through the Odisha middle order. Instead, the fielders dropped crucial catches - Niranjan Behera was reprieved by Hiken Shah early in the day while Natraj was dropped by Jaffer at first slip when he was on 61 - as Odisha comfortably knocked off 107 runs till lunch to move to within 23 of making Mumbai bat again.
Jaffer opted for the new ball immediately after lunch and Javed Khan managed to break the obdurate stand worth 146 runs when he had Niranjan, who scored 59 off 206 balls, caught at square leg, but Odisha were only nine short of wiping off Mumbai's lead, which they soon did as the bowlers had no answer to Natraj's strokeplay.
The diminutive batsman maintained his aggressive stance and was particularly severe on the spinners. Throughout the day, he peppered the straight boundary with lofted hits off both Pravin Tambe and Vishal Dabholkar. Natraj was unbeaten when the teams decided to shake hands at the start of the mandatory overs with Odisha ahead by 111 runs and he received ample praise from the Mumbai captain who conceded that Natraj was the difference.
"I haven't seen any batsman from Odisha score two hundreds and he really played well," Jaffer said. "Those two drops probably cost us. Had we taken those, we could have had a result. But there is no complaint from my side as the players put in a lot of effort. There was no help available for the spinners on the fourth-day pitch."
Tambe picked up the first two Odisha wickets in the second innings, but in the 17 overs he bowled on the last day, he leaked 75 runs and was hit for four consecutive hits between the sightscreen and long-on by Abhilash Mallick for 4, 6, 4, 4.
"He was obviously nervous in the first innings, bowling a lot of boundary balls, but you can't expect every one to be a Shane Warne," Jaffer said. "I think he really bowled well."
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo