Rohit and Nayar tons carry Mumbai
Mumbai 439 for 5 (Nayar 155, Rohit Sharma 100, Suryakumar 87) trail Rajasthan 530 by 91 runs
Steadfast centuries from Abhishek Nayar and Rohit Sharma and a belligerent knock from Suryakumar Yadav brought Mumbai within 91 of Rajasthan's first innings score on the penultimate day of an interesting contest at the Brabourne Stadium.
With the pair of Iqbal Abdulla and Ramesh Powar, specialists in lower-order rescue acts, and Nayar - who did not return from the tea interval due to severe body cramps, but was confident about batting tomorrow - remaining, Mumbai are on an equal footing with their opponents to gain the three points for the first-innings lead.
Rajasthan captain Hrishikesh Kanitkar had put in a sweeper cover from the first over since Rohit had scored freely in front of point on the second day. Rohit displayed the required patience, even though Pankaj Singh, the best bowler in the match, tested him to the hilt. Pankaj consistently attacked Rohit's off stump, bowling lengths that the batsman was not entirely comfortable with. The first hour in the morning was littered with spirited appeals from Pankaj and Co. but Rohit managed to survive. He also attacked the bowlers at the other end, to make sure the scoring-rate was inching forward.
As Rohit entered the 90s, Kanitkar played another interesting card by replacing Pankaj, who had bowled a six-over spell, with Gajendra Singh, the left-arm spinner. On 94, Rohit lunged too far forward against a delivery that spun away before taking an edge. Aakash Chopra, at first slip, dived to his right but could only get his fingertips to the ball before it sailed past.
Eventually, a steer to deep point fetched Rohit the two runs required to get to his second century in the first two Ranji matches of the season. Three balls later, he tried to hit over mid-off and ended up watching Vineet Saxena complete a fine catch.
Suryakumar was within touching distance of his maiden first-class century when he hit the self-destruct button. This is his third Ranji Trophy match, having made his debut last season, and he has a fifty in each one. Today was his best chance to reach three figures.
He started with a hard cut for two before consecutive straight fours over the bowler's head got him into double figures, and then finished the over by slog-sweeping Gajendra. Off his 17th delivery, he charged Gajendra again to hit his first six, a powerful drive high over the sight screen. In one Chahar over, he collected three consecutive boundaries in the arc between third man and deep point, expertly beating the fielders.
In just 20 minutes, Yadav was on 49 as he paddle-swept legspinner Vivek Yadav for an easy four. His half-century had come off 31 balls and included nine fours and one six. Rajasthan's bowling was in a mess, there were plenty of misfields too, and the 100-odd crowd, mostly kids, enjoyed themselves.
Mumbai piled on 187 in the first session off 37 overs. The way Suryakumar was dominating the opposition, Mumbai fancied their chances of taking a lead by stumps. However, Suryakumar's my-way-is-the-only-way approach came back to haunt him eventually.
Kanitkar asked his spinners to bowl wide outside off stump, hoping the inexperienced Suryakumar would go for the slog. Which is what Suryakumar did, living dangerously on a few occasions before another attempted paddle-sweep took the top edge and sailed into the hands of Robin Bist at short fine-leg. In the first round, Suryakumar had missed his maiden century by 12 runs. Today, by 13.
Mumbai seemed to have lost the momentum but Nayar played Mr Sensible to revive them. Nayar had missed the first-round clash against Railways due to a wrist injury but came in here for Prashant Naik, who picked up an injury last week. The selectors wanted Nayar to bat at No. 3 but he was understandably reluctant, having usually batted lower in the order.
Nayar's new job could have lasted only a few minutes on Saturday. When on ten, both he and Rohit found themselves stranded mid-pitch after Rohit had called for a run, but Nayar survived. There were more goof-ups like that late on Saturday, but as the minutes ticked by Nayar found his voice and his poise. He scored most of his runs in cuts and sweeps that found empty pockets in the field as the bowlers decided to attack Rohit.
The biggest difference between Nayar and the pair of Rohit and Yadav was that the southpaw played more responsibly. He did not fancy hitting every ball. He left many balls alone, churned out singles and did not show any unnecessary urge to go broke like his two team-mates.
An easy pull got him to 98 and then he flicked Chahar off his hips and screamed desperately "two, two, two, two" to Suryakumar. As soon as he finished the second, he looked heavenwards for a few seconds, then acknowledged the few faithful at Brabourne. He even thumped his heart with his helmet. It was a moment to be proud and Nayar was not shy. Except, the job still remains half done.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo