Pacers, Iyer help Mumbai grab early advantage
Mumbai 103 for 2 (Iyer 61*) trail Punjab 154 (Vohra 34, Sandhu 4-31, Thakur 4-47) by 51 runs
Attitude and discipline. For Mumbai captain Aditya Tare, these were the biggest lessons learnt from a topsy-turvy Ranji Trophy campaign last season and he wanted his team to improve on both aspects this time around. The Mumbai team delivered on both counts on the opening day of their Group B tie against Punjab to take a firm grip on the game at the Wankhede Stadium.
Thanks to a disciplined pace-bowling attack, aided by mediocre batting from Punjab, Mumbai bundled the visitors out in a little over two session. And Shreyas Iyer's blitzkrieg, an unbeaten 61 off 43 balls, then ensured that despite losing both the openers, the hosts were only 51 runs behind Punjab's tally of 154.
If Mumbai can bat through the second day, they will be set to make up for their disappointing start to the season, after they conceded the first-innings lead to Andhra last week.
Tare's decision to field on a typical Wankhede pitch that didn't look threatening for batsmen was a calculated risk. But the decision also reflected that he had more confidence in his bowling unit than the batting pack. And the pace attack delivered when they were given an opportunity to excel.
Manan Vohra and Jiwanjot Singh looked in little trouble for the first half hour, with the former driving the ball elegantly. Once Shardul Thakur couldn't extract any movement off the pitch or in the air, Tare brought in Balwinder Sandhu. And the seamer's introduction, aided by Abhishek Nayar's accurate bowling, dried the run flow.
It eventually resulted in Jiwanjot mis-timing an attempted drive and Sandhu latched on to a one-handed return catch in his follow-through. Half an hour and seven runs later, the change of ends worked for Thakur. The fast bowler bowled a short one and although the ball didn't rise much, Vohra couldn't take his gloves away in time while trying to duck under it. The ball kissed his right glove and offered Tare a simple catch.
Mandeep Singh played a superb cut shot off the first ball he faced but in Thakur's next over, fell into a short-ball trap. With Thakur bowling with a deep fine leg and deepish square leg, it was obvious that he would pester Mandeep with short balls. And the batsman walked into the trap by top-edging a pull for Harmeet Singh to run in a few yards from square leg and complete the catch.
In walked Yuvraj Singh, who had the additional responsibility to take Punjab to safety in the absence of Gurkeerat Singh, who has been called up to the India ODI squad. The Punjab captain played a stylish upper-cut just before the lunch break and in the first over after lunch, he played a trademark straight punch off Sandhu's fuller ball.
While Kulkarni continued to bowl short to Yuvraj in the next over, Sandhu was soon rewarded for his fuller length. In the bowler's next over, Yuvraj played a tentative drive only to edge it to Tare. At 75 for 4, Punjab were in trouble of folding early. Soon after Punjab went past the 100 mark, Uday Kaul, who had held one end together, and Himanshu Chawla, who replaced Gurkeerat in the XI, perished in the space of six balls and that opened the floodgates for Mumbai. Sandhu and Thakur didn't take long to wipe off the tail.
The Punjab seamers took a cue from their Mumbai counterparts and accounted for both the Mumbai openers in the first ten overs. But Iyer took the game away, displaying his wide range of strokes. He drove when the seamers pitched it full or wide, flicked off his pads with ease. He crossed 50 with a six, a straight hit into the sightscreen, off the 33rd ball he faced. He was lucky to have been given a reprieve soon after at short midwicket but his knock gave an early indication that he was unlikely to suffer any second-season blues.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo