Vijay ton puts Tamil Nadu in sight of final berth
Tamil Nadu 359 & 220 for 4 (Vijay 103*, Prasanna 1*, Waingankar 2-43) lead Mumbai 157 (Yadav 52, Balaji 4-28, Mahesh 3-63) by 422 runs
Tamil Nadu have virtually booked their ticket for the final against defending champions Rajasthan, after consigning Mumbai to a wretched first innings with the bat at the Wankhede Stadium. Having removed more than half of the Mumbai batting on the second afternoon, the Tamil Nadu bowlers returned today to shut out the hosts in about an hour. Murali Vijay then scored his first century of the season to help the visitors move to a nearly unassailable lead with only a day remaining.
In the end, Mumbai were left staring at their first defeat in knockouts at home since 2006 when Praveen Kumar helped Uttar Pradesh, the eventual champions, inflict a five-wicket win in the semi-finals at the same ground. Their feeble batting was the only reason Mumbai lost that match. Six years on, that weakness was exposed once again.
Mumbai started the day 238 runs adrift of TN's first-innings total but with only four wickets in hand. Hiken Shah, the only specialist batsman left, was in early trouble he failed to read an incoming delivery from Yo Mahesh, who was bowling from round the stumps. The next ball was a straighter delivery wide of off stump, and Shah went fishing to edge behind in the fourth over of the day.
Ramesh Powar did not offer much resistance, beaten by L Balaji's inswinger that sent his middle and leg stumps flying. The tail subsided quickly as TN finished with a 202-run lead. Embarrassingly for Mumbai, they didn't have even one partnership worth 50.
With five-and-a-half sessions remaining, the visitors chose to bat on instead of enforcing the follow-on. They started confidently with both Vijay and Abhinav Mukund accelerating straightaway. Both had their own goals: Mukund, who had never got a Ranji ton against Mumbai, cut, drove and punched the new ball to march into the forties by lunch.
But immediately upon resumption of play, he lost his stumps after being beaten by Kshemal Waingankar's inward movement from round the stumps. Badrinath started with the same composure he displayed on the first day, but perished when he misread left-arm spinner Ankit Chavan. Badrinath played for the spin, but Chavan's straighter delivery sneaked through the narrow lane between bat and pad to bowl him.
In the very next over, Dinesh Karthik paid the price for playing his shots too early. Facing only his fourth delivery, from Balwinder Sandhu, Karthik tried playing on the up but the ball arrived slower than he anticipated, and moved in to castle him. Sandhu had got the better of Karthik for the second time in the match.
Two quick wickets for just five runs injected aggro into the Mumbai bowling attack. As far as Badrinath and Karthik were concerned, the duo had wasted a good opportunity to log some batting time ahead of the final and also impress the national selectors, Mohinder Amarnath, Narendra Hirwani and Surendra Bhave, who were watching.
The one person who did not disappoint was Vijay. Going into the semis, Vijay's highest was 83, against Madhya Pradesh in the group match. He had two other fifties, but was struggling to convert his starts. Even in the first innings he chased and edged an away-going delivery from Kulkarni.
Despite top-edging one over the wicketkeeper early in his innings, Vijay improvised quickly to race into the twenties with four fours, all against Kulkarni. Using his wrists, Vijay clipped runs off his legs towards midwicket, and was equally in command when he stood tall and cut the ball past point.
Soon after lunch he charged Ramesh Powar to hit a powerful six over long-on. With Chavan failing to attack the wicket consistently, Vijay grew confident as he moved close to the century. It was only then that he grew tentative. After getting his first 32 runs in just 40 deliveries, he consumed nearly 70 deliveries to move from 81 to 99.
He got lucky on 97 when Wasim Jaffer at slip failed to react to a hard-handed cut. Jaffer was not crouching enough and instead stood tall and casually tried reaching for the ball, which only deflected off his ankle, allowing Vijay to pick two more runs.
Vijay finally conquered all doubts and anxiety when Chavan, bowling wide of the crease from around the stumps, sent in a flighted delivery. Vijay swiftly jumped out of his crease and hit his second six, this time towards the Pavilion end, and celebrated the ton.
Incidentally, the last time these teams played in Mumbai, Vijay had scored an unbeaten 154, which, too, had come in the second innings. Even back then Mumbai had been bundled out quickly by Tamil Nadu. That was a group match, and Mumbai recovered well to dominate the rest of the season and win the title. This time there would be no second chance.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo