Kulkarni cuts through Saurashtra on green track
Saurashtra 192 for 8 (Vasavada 77, Mankad 55*, Kulkarni 4-30, Thakur 2-59) v Mumbai
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Saurashtra's batting effort followed a similar script to their showing in the final against Mumbai three seasons ago, for most parts of the day. A combination of stage fright and lack of application on a green track that demanded patience over flamboyance allowed Mumbai's pace battery to dictate terms. Two youngsters then put together a stodgy display to keep Saurashtra afloat, but only by just, on the opening day of the Ranji Trophy final in Pune.
Arpit Vasavada, the left-hander, persisted with despite poor returns this season, and Prerak Mankad, the debutant whose technique suggests he could bat higher than No. 9, joined hands to build an 84-run partnership. This meant that Saurashtra, who began like they were running blindfolded on a freeway, regained some lost ground. The returning Dhawal Kulkarni's last roll of the dice with the second new ball, however, threw a spanner in Saurashtra's designs as they closed the day at 192 for 8.
Vasavada, who had managed only 192 runs in 11 innings prior to this outing, started off like a locomotive, before slowly dead-batting his way as wickets fell at the other end. He was seemingly untouched by the carnage triggered by Kulkarni and Shardul Thakur, as he scored 77 fighting runs. Mankad, meanwhile, rode his luck, having survived two run-outs while trying to pinch non-existent singleS and a half-chance at slip. Mankad slowly settled down and built his base around an array of strokes brought about by supple wrists and superb hand-eye coordination, to walk back 55 not out.
Just as the gotten-out-of-jail feeling was starting to surface in the Saurashtra camp, Kulkarni struck with a brute of an outswinger that left Vasavada late to take the edge as Suryakumar Yadav pouched one at second slip to galvanise Mumbai. They, however, surprisingly tailed off as the day progressed, deep point in place for large parts, even as the eighth-wicket pair were fed with a generous offering of leave-me-alone deliveries in the final session. It took some sheen off a bowling attack that threatened to wipe out Saurashtra even before tea.
Aditya Tare's glee at winning the toss was unmistakable, and that feeling resonated in the camp as Kulkarni, having recovered from a groin injury, held his own by probing on and around the off stump. Mumbai were rewarded soon enough as the openers were dismissed within eight overs. While Avi Barot mistimed a flick to be caught at square leg, Sagar Jogiyani nicked one to the wicketkeeper.
Cheteshwar Pujara, who missed Saurashtra's maiden Ranji final three years ago, was greeted by a chirping slip cordon. Kulkarni set him up with a succession of incoming deliveries. After jabbing at two deliveries, Pujara was left playing inside the line to be beaten by a couple of sharp in-cutters. Tare then employed a silly point in his eyeline, only for Pujara to be put off as an away-swinger which he couldn't reach out for resulted in an uncharacteristic push that was pouched in the slips. At 36 for 3, the heat was on Saurashtra.
Sheldon Jackson, Saurashtra's only batsman in the top-ten run-getters list this season, stuck around for 26 painful deliveries, often caught in two minds with his footwork. His luck ran out off his 27th delivery when Balwinder Sandhu induced a drive was well taken by Akhil Herwadkar at third slip. With a horror script unfolding in front of them even before the battle was truly on, Saurashtra's chances went up in smoke.
Jaydev Shah, the captain, set himself to repair the damage by blunting the bowling for 45 minutes, before the lunch break disturbed his concentration, and led to him fishing outside with an angled bat, only to nick behind. Chirag Jani and Deepak Punia also followed their captain's footsteps in combating the late swing watchfully, before a rush of blood resulted in indecisive footwork and eventually an edge that was taken in the cordon.
On an absorbing day that was marked by an intensity a final demanded, it was Mumbai's experience that prevailed, even as Saurashtra would feel short-changed by the manner in which their top order caved in.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo