Mumbai take first-innings lead with Nayar century
Tamil Nadu 206 and 30 for 1 (Karthik 28*, Yo Mahesh 0*) trail Mumbai 317 (Nayar 105, Jaffer 50, Ramkumar 4-88) by 81 runs
A counter-attacking 105 by Abhishek Nayar - a knock characteristic of reigning champions Mumbai - saw the visitors finish their first innings 111 runs ahead of Tamil Nadu in Chennai. At stumps on the second day, Tamil Nadu trailed by 81 runs for the loss of M Vijay's wicket.
The hosts stuck to the basics and put pressure on Mumbai's top order with a disciplined performance but the momentum quickly shifted towards the visitors in the afternoon as Nayar propelled his side to 317. The left-hand batsman, a handy bowler as well, finally delivered, scoring his first century in the Ranji Trophy and his third first-class ton - all of which have come this year.
Mumbai's openers Sahil Kukreja and Wasim Jaffer were prepared to bide their time in the morning session, moving their feet and getting nicely behind the line of the ball and almost every solid defensive shot was greeted by chants of shabaash, shabaash from the players' enclosure. Mindful of the low bounce on the surface, the openers added 57 at a slow pace, waiting for the bad ball instead of manufacturing strokes.
Captain S Badrinath's persistence with the seamers paid off when Kukreja and Ajinkya Rahane fell in almost identical fashion, fishing outside the off stump and edging to wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik. The spirits were up in the Tamil Nadu camp, sensing they could gain the first-innings advantage over Mumbai.
Jaffer then had captain Amol Muzumdar for company and the pair settled down to add 61 for the third wicket. Jaffer played fluently, getting his front foot forward, beating the infield with neat flicks past the bowler and midwicket and then showed his prowess off the back foot, punching Vijaykumar Yo Mahesh with a firm push past extra cover.
With the ball keeping low, Mumbai survived a few close shouts against the spinners before lunch. The pressure on the batsmen continued after lunch, and a rush of blood and uncoordinated running saw Jaffer and Prashant Naik losing their wickets. At 155 for 5, Mumbai's hopes of a big first-innings lead looked dim.
Refusing to get bogged down, Nayar took to the offspin of R Ashwin with an imperious loft over midwicket. He then launched the same bowler over the straight boundary, causing a few heartbeats to flutter at the media and scoring enclosure. The signs were evident that Nayar wasn't going to be content with a cameo, like his 24 against Karnataka the in previous game.
With the aggressive Ajit Agarkar for company, Nayar played with freedom, peppering the onside with a lofted sweep off Ashwin and a short-arm pull off left-arm seamer R Naresh. Both Nayar and Agarkar dismantled Naresh's miserly figures - he conceded just over a run an over in his first nine - with three boundaries in a single over. Agarkar found his groove with a hook and cover drive off Naresh, as Mumbai inched closer to Tamil Nadu's 206.
Nayar wasn't done yet. He managed to keep the off-side fielders on their toes, rocking back to the left-arm spin of R Ramkumar and bisecting the gap between point and cover on more than one occasion. The pair had added a priceless 61 - Mumbai gaining the first-innings lead - before Agarkar played down the wrong line to P Amarnath. Ramesh Powar perished soon after, edging to slip while trying to loft Ramkumar into the trees over long-on.
The chants of shabaash Abhishek and keep going Nayar didn't stop as Tamil Nadu were further driven further into the ground by Nayar. A firm punch down the ground was followed by a screeching extra-cover drive and a Caribbean-style one-legged whip. With his exaggerated wide stance, one could be forgiven for thinking a Lance Klusener impersonator was at the crease. Nayar, now joined by Vinayak Samant, continued in the same vein, launching Ramkumar over deep midwicket for his second six.
Almost every shot, including defensive pushes, came off the meat of the bat. He reached his century with a firm push to mid-on, with Mumbai's lead over fifty. His team-mates stood up to applaud his knock and the handful of spectators across the ground acknowledged as well. He fell trying to loft Ashwin with the turn, handing K Vasudevadas a catch running backwards from cover.
Tamil Nadu, in reply, lost M Vijay early to Powar although the batsman wasn't shy in showing his displeasure at the dismissal. However, they can take heart from the fact that Dinesh Karthik was middling the ball well, pounding the opening bowlers with horizontal bat shots off the middle of the bat.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo