Lad, Dabholkar lead Mumbai fightback
Tamil Nadu 434 and 73 for 7 (Dabholkar 5-41, Thakur 2-19) lead Mumbai 294 (Lad 150, M Mohammed 5-86) by 213 runs
Three hundred and twenty two runs. Fifteen wickets. An outstanding exhibition by three players, each specialising in pace bowling, batting and spin bowling ensured a topsy-turvy, action-packed day between Mumbai and Tamil Nadu.
More importantly, with Tamil Nadu leading by 213 for the loss of seven wickets, it has set up a thrilling finish on the last day at the Mumbai Cricket Association's facility at Bandra-Kurla Complex.
Despite the presence of some accomplished players in both teams, the day belonged to three underrated cricketers from both the teams. M Mohammed, the new-ball bowler from Dindigul, broke the back of Mumbai's middle order to leave them stranded at 52 for 5 in the first half hour. Siddhesh Lad, who is better known as the son of Rohit Sharma's childhood coach, then played a blinder under pressure to give some veneer to Mumbai's innings.
Vishal Dabholkar then changed the course of the game that was set to be dragged into a boring draw with his second five-for of the match to bring Mumbai right back into the game. Thanks to Dabholkar's spell of 13-2-41-5 with the new ball, Tamil Nadu were left tottering at 73 for 7, despite leading by 140 runs in the first innings, to leave the game wide open, with the last 96 overs to be bowled on Sunday.
Mohammed found the perfect line, pitching in the zone of uncertainty right from the word go. In the third over of the day, he first forced left-handed batsman Shrideep Mangela to edge one to B Aparajith at gully. Three balls later, he induced a faint edge off Suryakumar Yadav's bat to Dinesh Karthik.
As if the damage done was not enough, in his next over he made Mumbai captain Aditya Tare also nick to Karthik. At 52 for 5, with nightwatchman Dhawal Kulkarni hanging on at one end, Mumbai were staring down the barrel. In came Lad and changed the complexion of the game.
On the Mumbai maidans and in his short stint in first-class cricket, Lad has a reputation of being the crisis man for his side. And the stage was set for him to enhance it. He did it with a near-flawless innings by scoring more than half of Mumbai's total of 294.
The diminutive batsman started playing strokes from the word go and displayed the wide range of strokes in his arsenal. When the pacers pitched it full, he pounced on it with drives. Whenever they drifted on to his pads, he played elegant flicks, one of which sailed over the square-leg boundary.
While facing the spin duo of Malolan Rangarajan and Rahil Shah, Lad displayed his strong footwork by cutting, sweeping and charging down the wicket at will. He had no fear in going aerial too, hitting seven sixes, more than half of which were hit while taking on a fielder on the boundary line.
The best of his sixes came after lunch, even after losing Kulkarni, who hung on for a valuable 103-run partnership, when he played an inside-out drive off Mohammed that sailed over wide long-off.
Even after the wicket of Kulkarni in the second over after lunch, Lad didn't hold back, with Abhishek Raut, Shardul Thakur and Balwinder Sandhu lending valuable support. By the time he played his first false stroke, an uppish drive off Shah that went straight to B Indrajith at mid-off, Lad had raised his bat for a splendid 150.
Then came the remarkable turnaround. For the second match in succession, Tare opened the second innings with a left-arm spinner. While the move with Harmeet Singh didn't work last week against Punjab, it paid rich dividends this time around.
Dabholkar first bore the brunt of M Vijay, who used his feet and hit two straight sixes over the bowler's head, in successive overs. However, with Thakur having cleaned up Aparajith in the third over, Tare persisted with Dabholkar.
And the move paid off as Dabholkar's quickish left-arm spin looked unplayable on a wicket that hadn't deteriorated much. He beat Kaushik Gandhi with a straight ball to trap him lbw even before he could complete a forward defensive push. Four overs later, Karthik made the mistake of attempting a defensive stroke off the back foot only to be hit plumb in front.
In his next over, he forced a nick off stand-in captain B Indrajith's bat to Shreyas Iyer at second slip. Around 20 minutes later, R Prasanna was dropped by Suryakumar at first slip. Three balls later, Dabholkar got the prized scalp of Vijay, who hung his bat around the off stump to offer a sharp catch to Tare, for 29.
And in Dabholkar's next over, Prasanna was enticed into edging it again, to find Iyer at second slip. That was Dabholkar's tenth wicket of the match. At 53 for 6, Tamil Nadu were in desperate need of some runs.
While Rangarajan drove fluently, J Kousik couldn't capitalise on a reprieve by Iyer off Dabholkar. The allrounder's mis-timed pull off Thakur was easily taken by Kulkarni at mid-on to leave Tamil Nadu reeling at 71 for 7.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo