Kaustubh Pawar turns the tables on MP
Mumbai 346 for 7 (K Pawar 160*, Chavan 57*, Sudhindra 4-78) lead
Madhya Pradesh 192 (Birla 63, Kulkarni 5-74, Waingankar 3-29) by
Kaustubh Pawar rescued Mumbai from a precarious position with a fiercely-determined century and along with the lower order, all but batted Madhya Pradesh out of the Ranji Trophy. Mumbai had begun the day 122 runs behind MP with only five wickets remaining, but Pawar showed tremendous character in grinding out his second hundred in his debut season at a time Mumbai desperately needed someone to bail them out.
That he struggled with his rhythm till he reached the three-figure mark but did not throw his wicket away was a credit to Pawar's temperament. That Mumbai lost only two wickets today after 15 had fallen on the first day was partly due to their tenacity and partly due to the pitch which had eased out.
The first session was MP's only real chance of trying to take the lead but Pawar and Hiken Shah kept them at bay, giving no chances. As he had done yesterday, TP Sudhindra kept the batsmen defensive with excellent control over his lines and lengths but unlike they had done on day one, Mumbai did not succumb against the lack of runs. They kept nudging and guiding for singles and Pawar, especially, continued to leave almost everything that was outside off stump.
He was beaten on numerous occasions by Sudhindra who also had him down on the ground a couple of times as he avoided bouncers. Pawar was even hit on the helmet as he took his eyes off another bouncer but he just refused to get out. There was also only so much Sudhindra could do alone. Hiken signaled Mumbai's growing confidence when he lofted fast bowler Amarjeet Singh for a straight one-bounce four.
Sudhindra managed to break the stand minutes before lunch when Hiken finally fiddled with one outside off stump and nicked to the slip cordon. Mumbai were less than 50 runs behind by then, though. Also, a tail that has Ramesh Powar, Ankeet Chavan and Dhawal Kulkarni is not exactly a tail. Kulkarni arrived ahead of Powar and Chavan and with Pawar holding one end up, calmly pushed up the scoring rate with positive batting. MP were forced to spread the field and bring their innocuous spinners on as Kulkarni soon took Mumbai into the lead with a driven four through extra cover.
Sudhindra was still not done, though. He bowled Kulkarni for 40 with one that bounced from a good length but MP now had Chavan to contend with. With the crucial first-innings lead in the bag, Chavan was able to play his strokes from the start. Pawar, meanwhile, got to his century in uncharacteristic fashion off his 233rd delivery, stepping out to drive the offspin of Jalaj Saxena through extra cover.
The landmark brought out the strokeplayer in Pawar as he started to drive and cut with authority. Chavan cruised to a fifty as well, swinging a six over long-on in between his straight and cover drives. The eighth-wicket stand swelled past 100, taking the game further away from a flagging MP. Pawar showed no signs of fading, still finding the energy to punch and push for the three runs that took him past 150. MP's bowlers tried everything after being let down by their batsmen but once again, Mumbai had someone to do the dirty work and dig them out of the hole.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo