Trouble for Mumbai as Rajasthan pile on 530
Mumbai 104 for 2 (Rohit Sharma 55*, Nayar 32*, Pankaj 2-40) trail Rajasthan 530 (Kanitkar 141, Bist 82*, Kulkarni 4-110) by 426 runs
Mumbai's script for this match was bat first, bat once, pile a massive total and dominate the opposition to try and register an outright victory. Except, in a role reversal, defending champions Rajasthan did exactly what heavyweights Mumbai had in mind. If Hrishikesh Kanitkar, the Rajasthan captain, had laid the platform with a serene century on the first day, young Robin Bist played an equally stoic innings, to remain unbeaten on 82 and help the visitors to 530.
In reply a shaky Mumbai lost both openers including Wasim Jaffer, their captain and the most senior batsman. Still 426 runs in deficit, Mumbai's survival is now dependent on the unbeaten pair of Rohit Sharma and Abhishek Nayar, the only two experienced specialist batsmen left in the line-up.
In contrast to their difficult state at the end, Mumbai had started the day on a positive note, when both Kanitkar and Bist were watchful. The Brabourne pitch did not betray its flat nature. Neither did the Mumbai fast men: Dhawal Kulkarni and Kshemal Waingankar refrained from bowling fuller lengths, only allowing the batsmen to settle down quickly. Yet only 23 runs came in the first hour off 11 overs.
Surprisingly Kanitkar's shots lacked the conviction of the previous day. He added only 12 runs to his overnight 129 before wafting at a wide delivery outside the off stump from Murtaza Hussain, giving an easy edge to wicketkeeper Onkar Gurav. Mumbai felt they could now snatch the momentum, but Bist put them on the slow drip for more than three hours. His batting might have lacked aggression but it didn't contain any desperation.
He started his innings clipping Kulkarni past midwicket for his first four. When Waingankar, who looked listless through the morning, pitched short, Bist pulled for an easy four. Thereafter he slowed down and focused on rotating strike as far as possible.
Rohit Jhalani, the Rajasthan wicketkeeper, though was more keen on hitting hard and eventually threw away his wicket. Jhalani had lofted Iqbal Abdulla, the left-arm spinner, over long-on for a six and four off consecutive deliveries 15 minutes before lunch. But Abdulla bounced back in his next over: giving the perfect loop to a delivery that spun across Jhalani's bat to knock over the off stump. And when Kulkarni trapped Vivek Yadav in the first over after lunch, the onus was on Bist to carry forward the momentum with the tail to come in.
Bist did not relent as he maintained his steady tempo while allowing the trio of Deepak Chahar, Gajendra Singh and Pankaj Singh to play their shots with freedom. He got to his half-century with a square cut that zipped past the point fielder who could only sit on his haunches and watch Bist celebrate his fifty. Valuable partnerships of 49 and 45 for the ninth and the tenth wickets pushed Rajasthan past 500.
Pankaj carried the confidence of his 34 into his bowling, removing Mumbai opener Kaustubh Pawar early. Pawar, playing only his second Ranji match, attempted to cut a short delivery which was wide outside off only to offer a simple catch to Jhalani behind the stumps. The Mumbai dressing room was probably calm thinking it was not Jaffer who played that erroneous stroke. Little did they know.
Having clipped two on-driven fours off fuller-length deliveries on his legs from Pankaj, Jaffer went for a pull against a short ball off the last delivery of the over. The ball climbed on him fast, and Jaffer could not time it as well as he would have wished and ended up giving an easy catch to mid-on. Pankaj's roar of delight reverberated through the empty stadium.
Mumbai's troubles were far from over. Rohit Sharma, on 2 (Mumbai were 29 for 2), played an uppish drive straight into the hands of substitute Vaibhav Deshpande at short extra cover but was fortunate as the fielder spilled the chance. The bowler deprived was Chahar. Rohit had only played six deliveries. He brushed aside the early nerves with two brilliant fours in the next three balls.
But more drama was in store off the last delivery of the over. Rohit softly tapped towards Ashok Menaria and took off for a single. Nayar responded positively but suddenly stopped and both players were stranded mid-pitch staring at each other embarrassingly. Fortunately for them, Menaria failed to pick up the ball cleanly. Frustration doubled for Rajasthan when Jhalani, who had come in front of the stumps to collect the delayed throw, fumbled, giving Nayar enough time to scamper home safely. Rohit was disgusted and waved his bat in the air to express his dissatisfaction at the confusion.
However Rohit moved on swiftly from the incident and even collected four boundaries in Chahar's eighth over. Those 16 runs took him to within eight runs of the half-century. He reached the mini-landmark by pulling legspinner Yadav over midwicket for an easy four. The job has only started for him and Mumbai.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo