Maharashtra 224 away from shock win
Maharashtra 280 and 28 for 1 need 224 runs to beat Mumbai 402 and 129 (Sanklecha 4-57, Fallah 3-45, Mundhe 3-26)
Maharashtra rectified their mistakes of the first two days to stage a great fightback and give themselves a chance to not only register a rare victory against Mumbai, but also enter the Ranji Trophy semi-finals for the first time in two decades.
Starting the day with their backs against the wall, Maharashtra waged a stunning counterattack. First, their last three wickets contributed 61 vital runs to their overnight total of 219 for 7. Then, despite conceding a lead of 122 runs, Maharashtra's pace triumvirate ran through Mumbai for a paltry 129 in 38.1 overs in the second innings, to get themselves back into the game.
Had it not been for Chirag Khurana's lazy slash outside off stump in the last over of the day that landed in Wasim Jaffer's hand at second slip, Maharashtra would have been in a much stronger position chasing 252 on a Wankhede Stadium wicket that offered consistent movement off seam even on day three.
While admitting that his batsmen lacked application, Mumbai coach Sulakshan Kulkarni said that the pressure was on the Maharashtra batsmen to score the runs. "Scoring 250 is quite a task on this wicket and it up to them to go for the target. If they get it, all credit to them," he said. Elated with his bowlers' performance, Kulkarni's Maharashtra's counterpart Surendra Bhave was far from being in a celebratory mood. "Let the fat lady sing first and then we'll think about it," he said.
Despite Bhave's cautious approach, it was a day to cherish for Maharashtra's bowlers who rectified their mistakes committed in the first innings. If they were wayward on the opening morning, they were on the ball on the third afternoon. If they were listless on the second morning to allow the Mumbai tail to add almost 100 runs and cross the 400-run mark, they were relentless in attacking the Mumbai batsmen and persuading them into false strokes on the third afternoon. The manner in which the Maharashtra slip cordon backed their bowlers with exceptional catching was indeed heartening to watch.
If Mumbai had hoped to kill the game after garnering a sizeable 122-run advantage in the first innings, with Shardul Thakur adding two more wickets to his kitty to register his personal best 6 for 86 in first-class cricket, they would have needed a sound start from Kaustubh Pawar and Jaffer. However, both the Mumbai openers were sent back into the dressing room during a five-over short burst before lunch by Anupam Sanklecha and Samad Fallah. While Sanklecha started the rot by forcing a nick off Jaffer to Chirag Khurana in the second over of the innings, Fallah induced Pawar into an edge to Sangram Atitkar at third slip.
Sanklecha continued to maintain the pressure after the break and was backed by aggressive field placements. He was rewarded for his immaculate line outside off stump in the fifth over after the break by getting rid of Vinit Indulkar and Abhishek Nayar off successive balls, with the latter's dismissal sparking a celebratory sprint that almost saw Sanklecha cross the Sahayadri ranges. Even though Suryakumar Yadav, the only centurion of the match, avoided the hat-trick by driving a full delivery outside off stump past the bowler, Fallah dismissed Tare in the next over to leave Mumbai reeling at 29 for 5.
When Shrikant Mundhe, the third musketeer of Maharashtra's pace troika, got Iqbal Abdulla caught in the slips after he had put on 48 runs with Yadav, Mumbai were in danger of being knocked out for double digits. All the six batsmen had been caught behind the stumps. Though Yadav's delicious strokeplay helped Mumbai get close to 100, he was stranded in front of the wickets after missing one from Mundhe that was pitched at full length.
Thakur then showed his batting prowess by scoring 33 with two sweetly timed sixes to set up a target in excess of 250- a knock that could very well prove to be a decisive factor. However, the young and impressive Maharashtra batsmen would be hoping to negate the hosts' slender advantage and turn day four into a super Saturday.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo