Tamil Nadu seal spot in Ranji final
Tamil Nadu 359 (Prasanna 104, Mahesh 67, Sandhu 5-88) & 331 for 8 dec (Vijay 142, Sandhu 5-74) drew with Mumbai 157 (Yadav 52, Balaji 4-28, Mahesh 3-63) & 88 for 3 (Shah 29*, Kaushik 2-6). Tamil Nadu won on first-innings lead
Tamil Nadu entered the Ranji Trophy final for the first time in eight years after gaining a massive first-innings lead against Mumbai, setting up a summit clash with defending champions Rajasthan. The visitors declared mid-way into the second session on the final day, after the lead had crossed the 500-run mark - more than enough to bring curtains down on Mumbai's season. In reply Mumbai survived some anxious moments, losing both their openers inside seven overs, before both teams agreed to call off the match before the start of the mandatory overs.
That Tamil Nadu had assured themselves of a final spot was known last evening, today's play a mere formality. Mumbai, on their part, had only the proverbial pride to play for. Balwinder Sandhu, playing only his third first-class match, led the way for Mumbai with his second five-for in the match. Sadly, Sandhu was the only man who showed the fighting spirit. That Mumbai were in complete disarray was confirmed when they struggled to bat out a total of 44 overs (29 plus 15 mandatory) once Tamil Nadu had declared.
After the pair of Kaustubh Pawar and Onkar Gurav had failed to lay a platform in the first innings, Mumbai changed their opening combination, with Abhishek Nayar - who is not a regular opener - walking out to open with Pawar. For the second successive time Pawar failed to impress, as he played away from his body to an outswinger from J Kaushik. S Badrinath, at second slip, completed an easy catch. Kaushik shared the new ball with Yo Mahesh after L Balaji cooled his heels in the dressing-room. Balaji later said he wanted to give the youngsters the chance to lead the attack and they did not disappoint.
Nayar threw caution to the winds as he raced into the 20s, playing some powerful drives. But Nayar's strokes lacked conviction - his retort, seemingly, was driven more by disappointment. Soon enough, it brought his downfall. When Kaushik pitched short into his ribs, Nayar swivelled immediately to pull. He had rushed into the shot, failed to time it well and ended up skying a high catch that was pouched safely by Sunny Gupta at midwicket.
Tamil Nadu were now toying with Mumbai's batsmen. With twelve overs remaining after the tea break prior to the mandatory overs, the visitors bowled slow bowlers from both ends - left-arm spin of Aushik Srinivas and part-time of spin of M Vijay. It was also a smart ploy to tempt someone like Suryakumar Yadav, who might have turned heads with attacking batting this season, yet has disappointed by his failure to adapt to the situation.
Having moved swiftly to 33, Yadav jumped out of the crease to launch Srinivas out of the ground. He had failed to reach to the pitch of the ball, and ended up offering another easy catch. There were only six overs before the start of the mandatory overs at that point. Both Nayar and Yadav, Mumbai's best batsmen this season, floundered today and played with abandon when the situation demanded them to be more responsible.
Strangely it was a day that started and ended on the same casual note. Vijay, the overnight centurion, had all the time and the right conditions to make a big century. He had picked up easy runs in the first ten overs of the day, against the old ball. But in the second over after Mumbai opted for the new ball, Vijay swung his bat wildly against an away-going delivery from Sandhu, which had pitched back of length. It was a bad swing and miss. Next ball Sandhu smartly kept the length fuller, but shaped it outwards again. Vijay once again flashed his blade extravagantly. This time, the outside edge went to Hiken Shah at first slip.
After lunch Sandhu moved the ball prodigiously, using both conventional and reverse swing, keeping R Prasanna, the first-innings centurion, vigilant. Circumspect, he went after a straighter delivery outside off stump only to play into the hands of gully, where Pawar dived to his wrong side to claim a brilliant catch.
Sandhu snagged his fourth victim when Sunny Gupta needlessly attempted an audacious heave, but lost his leg stump. Sandhu got his maiden ten-wicket match haul when Balaji could do nothing much with a half volley, spooning an easy return catch into the Mumbai seamer's hands. Sandhu had bowled tirelessly in the second session, bowling thirteen overs on the trot, and persevered to earn the honours. If there was any positive for Mumbai, he was it.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo