Karnataka ahead despite Nayar's impressive ton
Mumbai 354 for 8 for (Nayar 137*, Rohit 64, Vinay Kumar 3-79) trail Karnataka 635 for 9 dec by 281 runs
Regardless of the outcome of this match, Abhishek Nayar has played one of the best innings of his first-class career. It was an innings that was played in isolation, a completely contrasting knock to those of the rest of his team-mates, who erred in their shot-selections on a pitch which demanded one thing: patience. Nayar showed that in abundance for the second match in a row at the same venue and now has an opportunity to complete a second-consecutive double-hundred tomorrow.
He could not reach the milestone on the third day because of dehydration and cramps, the same reasons that forced him to return to the dressing-room against Rajasthan last week. On that occasion he managed to return, score 245 and secure the three first-innings lead points for Mumbai. The chances of an encore tomorrow remain slim. Karnataka are tougher opponents, their bowlers are more disciplined and most importantly Mumbai have only two wickets remaining and need a further 132 runs to avoid the follow-on. The three points for a first-innings lead are all but gone for Mumbai, who finished the day 354 for 8 in response to Karnataka's 635, and they will have to battle to avoid an outright loss.
It could have been a different story for the hosts if the rest of their batsmen had not made mistakes. Ajinkya Rahane lunged forward to a delivery from R Vinay Kumar, which had pitched inches shorts of a good length on off stump. Rahane could easily have left it alone or played off the back foot. Instead he stretched forward into an ungainly position, trying to play too far away from his body. The resultant thick outside edge travelled straight to KB Pawan at short gully. Rahane, who is part of the India squad for the third Test against West Indies starting next week, had added just one run to his overnight score of 23.
Vinay nearly trapped Rohit Sharma lbw with the incutter, which had accounted for Mumbai's captain Wasim Jaffer the previous evening. Vinay has developed a delivery with the new ball that lands on the outside of the seam and nips in to the right-hander. The ball hit Rohit's back pad slightly high and the appeal was turned down. Rohit continued having problems reading Vinay's lengths and clever variations.
He was lucky when Vinay, in his next over, failed to pouch an easy return catch. Though Rohit started to get into the groove with some nicely-timed drives, there remained a certain desperation about his batting. In the final over before lunch, Abhimanyu Mithun smartly delivered a short-pitched delivery well outside off. Rohit went for an unnecessary pull and played on to be dismissed for 64.
Only yesterday, speaking to the media after his call-up to the Test squad, Rohit had said that the biggest thing he had learned from speaking to the likes of Duncan Fletcher, the India coach, was the importance of temperament. Yet for the second time in two weeks Rohit has played an irresponsible shot and failed to go on to play a really big innings.
Suryakumar Yadav has turned heads with his belligerent half-centuries in the previous two matches of the season. But Karnataka set him up nicely, packing the off-side field and putting in two short covers. Yadav, playing just his fourth first-class match, worked hard to remain calm yet was visibly tempted to play his shots. He was unable to resist a full delivery from Stuart Binny and played a half-hearted off drive only to spoon an easy catch to the cover fielder. It was the first of Binny's three wickets in the day.
After those mistakes, the only reason Mumbai were afloat was Nayar, who Milind Rege, the Mumbai chief selector, calls the "most improved player in domestic cricket." Nayar would happily accept such a distinction. And why shouldn't he.
The Rajasthan match was the first time he had batted at No. 3. He may have had concerns about batting higher than his usual middle-order position as the prospect of facing the new ball is not always pleasant. In any case he had no choice. The Mumbai selectors had decided Nayar was the perfect choice for the crucial one-down position.
According to Rege, a No. 3 batsman needs to be a complete stroke-maker. He needs to have the temperament, the character and the shots. If you looked at Nayar's wagon-wheels (strangely hidden from public view due to the BCCI's rules) you'd see that he played his shots all around the wicket. Cuts, drives, flicks, pulls, sweeps, steers, glances, reverse-sweeps, paddle-sweeps - Nayar can play the whole gamut of strokes. And importantly he has developed the ability to refrain from playing those strokes if they are not needed.
Today, he left several deliveries alone; the 145 dot balls in his 216-ball stay so far indicates he is ready to bide his time at the crease. Unlike Rohit, he rotated the strike frequently, taking 43 singles. Against Rajasthan, Nayar had not been afraid to play his strokes. Today he was more circumspect yet played fluently. He gave Karnataka just two chances. Both came before he had reached his fifty. First Robin Uthappa dropped him at short exta-cover off Mithun and then the bowler himself failed to intercept a straight drive that flew just over his head.
Otherwise Nayar remained stoic. All his shots came along the ground. He never played any cross-batted strokes. Like the Karnataka pair of Manish Pandey and Amit Verma on the first two days, Nayar knew that to succeed on such a slow and harmless pitch you had to wait for the ball. He brought up his half-century by sweeping KP Appanna, the left-arm spinner, who continued to bowl on Nayar's pads. He took advantage of the poor line and moved quickly towards his century.
Nayar moved from 88 to 96 with consecutive boundaries off Vinay. Both strokes were fluent cover drives, played on the up with the full face of the bat. In the past, Nayar has struggled to play that shot convincingly but today he proved he could do anything. A fierce cut got him past another century. His grit was admirable and he battled through recurring wrist pain in his left hand before dehydration forced him to retire.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo