Tailenders, Thakur build Mumbai's advantage
Maharashtra 219 for 7 (Bawne 84, Jadhav 51, Thakur 4-62) trail Mumbai 402 (Yadav 120, Indulkar 82) by 183 runs
Resistance from Mumbai's tailenders, followed by an inspired spell from Shardul Thakur allowed Mumbai to put one foot in the Ranji Trophy semi-finals even before the halfway stage of their quarter-final tie against Maharashtra. At the end of the second day's play at the Wankhede Stadium, Maharashtra were struggling at 219 for 7 in response to Mumbai's 402.
With the visitors still 183 runs adrift with just three wickets in hand, the match is all but over unless the Maharashtra bowlers take a cue from Mumbai's tail and bowling unit, and stage an unexpected comeback.
Thakur, the young medium-pacer from the western suburbs, was easily the star of the day. He surprised not only the opposition batsmen but even some of his team-mates with the serious bounce and pace that he generated. His quickest delivery clocked 138 kph - a heartening sign for Mumbai's pace attack which has seen seven new-ball bowlers being used, including the sparsely available Zaheer Khan and injured Dhawal Kulkarni.
Not many Indian domestic cricketers are used to playing such pace as whenever a bowler bowls so quick on a wicket that's conducive for pacers, the batsmen tend to feel the heat. Maharashtra's fancied batting line-up was no exception. The captain Rohit Motwani was the first to walk back, having been promoted up the order to accompany Harshad Khadiwale.
Motwani lasted just five balls and was trapped lbw after missing a straight full toss in Thakur's opening over, opening the floodgates for the hosts. With Thakur bowling his quickest, Mumbai captain Zaheer backed the seamer by putting in place an attacking field, with none of the nine fielders in front of the wickets. Maharashtra subsequently wilted under the pace and pressure.
Khadiwale, this season's highest run-getter, was the next to go after edging Thakur to Vinit Indulkar at third slip in the sixth over of the innings. In the very next over, Vijay Zol shouldered a delivery from Zaheer only to see the ball clipping the top of off stump, leaving Maharashtra at 24 for 3. Maharashtra's next pair, however, led a mini recovery.
While Kedar Jadhav, who is reputed for his ferocious batting, adopted a cautious approach, Ankit Bawne waged a counterattack. Bawne was lucky to have been dropped on 5 by Wasim Jaffer at second slip, and he made full use of the missed chance by hitting Javed Khan for four well-timed fours to the off side in an over. He followed that up by dancing down the wicket to hoick Abhishek Nayar over long-on, with the ball almost landing in the second tier of the stands.
Thakur, who shed 12 kilos in the off-season, however came back for a second spell and immediately forced a nick off Bawne's willow to Indulkar again. However, replays showed the bowler didn't have any part of his foot behind the line, thus handing Bawne yet another reprieve. The youngster made full use of it, reaching his fifty in just 52 balls.
Just as the fourth-wicket association between Bawne and Jadhav, who during the innings became the second batsman to score 900 runs this season, started to raise some concerns for Mumbai, the 115-run partnership was broken by the left-arm spinner Vishal Dabholkar. Jadhav could only edge one that turned sharply after pitching outside leg, and Aditya Tare was lucky to pouch the ball after it ricocheted off his pads.
Zaheer didn't take long to reintroduce Thakur into the attack, and the bowler immediately got rid of the dangerous Bawne- caught behind the wicket- 16 runs shy of what would have been a brave century. While Thakur added Sangram Atitkar's scalp to his kitty in a third spell that read 5-0-17-2, Javed was rewarded for some disciplined bowling when he dismissed Chirag Khurana, thanks to an acrobatic catch at gully by Kaustubh Pawar.
"Shardul was the quickest bowler we have faced all this season," Bawne said later. "With him utilising the conditions favourably, batting became extremely difficult for us."
Had it not been for the Mumbai tail's resistance in the morning, Maharashtra may have fancied chasing a smaller total. Starting the day at 306 for 7, Iqbal Abdulla batted sensibly with Zaheer to add almost 100 to the total. Even though Abdulla ran out of partners one run shy of a deserving fifty, his crucial partnerships with Javed and Zaheer ensured that Maharashtra were set to face a daunting first-innings score.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo