Abdulla takes six, but Mumbai in trouble
Mumbai 76 for 4 (Bumrah 3-12) and 154 trail Gujarat 253 (Gohel 58, Abdulla 6-42) by 23 runs
Iqbal Abdulla's best figures in first-class cricket brought Mumbai back into a game that looked to be slipping away from them. Still, Mumbai's bizarre strategy in the morning session, as well as a second top-order batting collapse in as many days meant that Gujarat were in a formidable position midway through the Ranji Trophy Group A league tie at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Valsad. Not only are the hosts on the verge of progressing to the quarter-finals, but they are also close to eliminating the defending champions in the preliminary stage.
At the end of the second day's play, after Gujarat attained a 99-run advantage in the first innings, Mumbai were tottering at 76 for 4. If Mumbai are to make it to the top three and qualify for the quarter-finals, they have to register a victory. But with Punjab on course to registering a victory with a bonus point against Jharkhand, even Gujarat have no choice but to go for the kill on the third morning.
Parthiv Patel's men are in a much better position than Wasim Jaffer's at the turn of the year despite Gujarat starting the day on the worst possible note. With sunshine greeting the teams in the morning, Patel and Samit Gohel would have hoped to see off the early moisture in the wicket and be together at least till Gujarat overhauled Mumbai's first innings total of 154.
However, Shardul Thakur got through the Gujarat captain's defence off the fifth ball of the day to raise Mumbai's hopes of getting back into the game. While Venugopal Rao looked shaky all through his innings, Gohel looked solid and raised the first fifty of the match when he steered Vishal Dabholkar past the slip cordon for four.
But just when the partnership appeared to be turning into a decisive one, Abdulla struck soon after being introduced into the attack. He caught Gohel plumb in front to end an impressive knock. Six overs later, Abdulla got rid of Manprit Juneja, forcing a nick to Jaffer in the slips. At that time, Abdulla looked like he would run through the Gujarat lower order. But much to everyone's surprise, Jaffer took him out of attack.
Gujarat were 153 for 5 then, and by the time Abdulla was reintroduced into the attack, Gujarat had almost walked away with the game. In the 27 overs between Abdulla's two crucial spells of the day, Gujarat managed to add 74 runs for the loss of two wickets. The spinner did bowl a solitary over in between but even when Jaffer decided to stick with a spinner with the new ball from the far end that was offering more turn, he preferred to persist with Dabholkar instead of Abdulla.
Finally, nine overs after the new ball had been taken, Jaffer threw the ball to Abdulla. Gujarat were 227 for 7 then, and it took Abdulla less than five overs to get the remaining three scalps and pick up six wickets in an innings for the first time in his topsy-turvy career.
A lead of 99 was going to be more than handy on a wicket that was turning more and more as the game progressed. However, with a victory being the only option available, Mumbai changed the batting order and sent Aditya Tare as Kaustubh Pawar's opening partner. While Pawar was supposed to continue with his sheet anchor's role, Tare was supposed to do the scoring.
However, Mumbai's plans went for a toss as Bumrah bowled a memorable spell. First, he bowled a ripper that held its line and sent Pawar's off stump cartwheeling. Next, a pacey delivery was hurled in the perfect channel to force a nick off Tare's willow behind the wicket. At 18 for 2, Mumbai's hopes relied on Jaffer and Suryakumar Yadav.
Both the players were mixing caution with aggression, with the youngster time and again struggling to resist the temptation of playing rash shots. However, even before Yadav was guilty for his undoing, Bumrah returned to force an edge off Jaffer for Akshar Patel to take an impressive catch at second slip.
At 51 for 3, with a rookie in Hiken Shah who has hardly scored in his three Ranji innings, and a long tail to follow, Yadav had to see off the day without any further damage. However, ten minutes before close, Yadav lived up to his reputation of throwing his wicket away, as he attempted a slog-sweep against the turn off Akshar and top-edged to Juneja at short fine leg.
While Gujarat will be in a mood to celebrate the New Year's Eve, Mumbai would be hoping for a turnaround in their fortunes on the New Year's Day.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo