Kotak and Pujara bat according to plan
Saurashtra 202 for 2 (Kotak 73*, Pujara 61*) v Mumbai
Needing a draw to enter the semi-finals, Saurashtra ground down the Mumbai attack to reach 202 for 2 at stumps on the opening day. Shitanshu Kotak stuck to the crease to score a flawless 268-ball 73 while Cheteshwar Pujara hit a fluent 61 as Saurashtra sought to soak up as much time as possible.
Mumbai gambled by asking Saurashtra to bat on a wicket that held no demons and Kotak soon made them regret it. Each minute he spent out there, offering a dead bat, ball after ball, he took Saurashtra an inch closer to their destination. The logic of Mumbai's decision to field was simple: get the opponents out for below 300, pile up a big score and go for the win. But with an inexperienced seam attack and with two spinners in the side, there was always a danger of the plan backfiring.
It is still a touch early too pass the verdict because though Saurashtra have wickets in hand they don't have the runs on the board. If Mumbai can make early breakthroughs tomorrow, they will hope to run through the rest of the batsmen, who are not in great form. However, with Delhi - Mumbai's rivals for the spot in the final four - taking a firm grip over the game against Tamil Nadu, Mumbai could be feeling their time is starting to run out. A first-innings lead might not be enough as Delhi are comfortably ahead in the run quotient.
The cricket at Wankhede Stadium was slow but interesting. "I don't care whether I bore the hell out of the opposition, I'm going to try and bat for as long as possible," Kotak told Cricinfo yesterday and he went on to do exactly that. His technique was simple: He shuffled from just outside leg stump, got on to the front foot and defended solidly.
His chief scoring stroke was the flick shot as the bowlers, perceiving his shuffle as a potential for an lbw, slid a few on to the pads. Barring a couple of deliveries edged wide of the slips, he left nearly everything that was pushed across him. It was an innings of tremendous concentration and application that impressed Milind Rege, the Mumbai selector. "This kind of batsmanship needs great temperament and Kotak is playing exactly the sort of innings his team needs."
Meanwhile, Pujara showed why he is the season's highest run-getter of the season (733 at the start of the game) with a composed knock. The head was still, the feet moved crisply to get him into position and he showed a penchant for the on-the-up square drive. Whenever the bowlers pitched a fraction short, he flashed them to the square boundary and punctuated his attacking strokes with solid defence. He had just a solitary moment of concern when he edged Murtuza Hussain well short of the first slip but for the main part, he was rock solid in defence.
For Mumbai, Hussain was the bowler of the day. Short and lithe, he ran in purposefully all day and hit the right areas. He struck in his second over, sending Sagar Jogiyani's off stump for a walk after the ball cut in to thread the bat and pad gap. He found some bounce too and repeatedly cut it away from Kotak, a left-hand batsman, who played him with extreme care.
However, Mun Mangela, the tall bowler who found bounce, didn't trouble the batsmen consistently enough. After being warned twice - in the 6th and 25th overs - for running on to the danger area, he went around the wicket for the majority of the day, delivered from wide of the crease and didn't make the batsmen play enough. Even in his previous Ranji game, against Punjab last season, Mangela found it hard to avoid running on to the pitch. The spinners couldn't do much on the first-day track and Saurashtra inched forward to a great position.
Mumbai have shown in the past they can wriggle out of tough positions but they are running out of time. Tomorrow's play could well decide their fate.
Sriram Veera is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo