Muzumdar ton strengthens Mumbai's advantage
Punjab 202 & 18 for 0 trail Mumbai 436 for 9 dec (Muzumdar 113, Rohit 85, Rahane 80, Samant 65, Nayar 61, Kakkar 3-93) by 216 runs
Mumbai continued to dictate terms for the second straight day at the Brabourne Stadium, with Amol Muzumdar and Rohit Sharma's handsome knocks taking the game further away from Punjab. Muzumdar scored his first hundred of the season, and his 132-run fourth-wicket stand with Rohit was the main highlight of a day on which Punjab failed to make any impression.
At stumps, Punjab's opening pair of Sunny Sohal and Karan Goel played with caution the four overs of spin from Ramesh Powar and Ankit Chavan, who are bound to play a bigger role on Saturday as Mumbai try to seal the match.
Ajinkya Rahane, who had cracked a stroke-filled half-century the previous evening, once again started off on a brisk note, punishing the loose balls from Gagandeep Singh and Amanpreet Singh. However, half an hour into the morning, Rahane was adjudged leg-before after he tried to push an offcutter from Gagandeep for a single into the vacant midwicket region. It was a big wicket because Rahane, the tournament highest run-getter this year, was key to Mumbai's chances to score an innings victory.
In walked Muzumdar with the weight of expectations on his slim shoulders: his unconvincing form (two fifties in six previous games) had added to the pressure on the top order. But, today, Muzumdar seemed to have exorcised his ghosts finally. He took charge straightaway with two magnificent drives past cover, both fours, against the well-flighted legbreaks of Sarabjit Ladda. Nimble on the feet, Muzumdar was quick to move forward as well as draw back if the bowler tried to attack him.
Making use of the width on offer and the gaps in the field, especially behind the wicket, Muzumdar utilised the cut and the paddle- sweep frequently as he marched to his third half-century of the season before lunch.
He was joined by Rohit once Vinayak Samant, the other overnight batsman, departed soon after reaching his fifty. In a moment of misjudgment, Samant stayed back to a delivery from left-arm spinner Ankur Kakkar; the ball jumped off the pitch and turned away to bowl him.
Rohit started on an extravagant note with two full-blooded fours: the first over Kakkar's head, followed by one clubbed over mid-off. When Ladda offered him width, Rohit accepted with glee, slashing the legspinner past point for another four.
By lunch, Mumbai were set to post an imposing lead having gone past Punjab's score. With the pitch completely dry, the ball gripped the surface and provided the comfort of an extra moment for the batsman to decide his shot. The only way Punjab could have expected to strike back was by tossing the ball up or pinning the batsmen down - something neither of their three spinners - Ladda, Varun Khanna and Kakkar - managed consistently. It only helped Mumbai dominate.
Rohit brought up his half-century in a swift manner, charging Gagandeep for an easy on-drive for four. Two balls later, a solid front-foot punch raced away to the sightscreen behind the bowler. Playing with gusto, he stood his ground once again to punch it past the straight boundary to end the over. Rohit looked ominous as he neared his second century of the season, but a lofted attempt to clear the boundary landed in the hands of Ravi Inder Singh at mid-off.
But Punjab's misery was far from over, with Muzumdar, enjoying the Rohit show from the other end, closing in on the century with consecutive sweeps against Kakkar. Having cut Kakkar in front of square for another four, an emotional Muzumdar celebrated his maiden ton this season with a leap and a punch in the air. He was doubly happy as his parents were at the ground to witness his big moment. Then as a gesture to thanks his team-mates, he simultaneously doffed his cap and bowed towards the Mumbai dressing room.
At the other end, Abhishek Nayar, playing his first game of the season, crushed Punjab's spirits further with an attacking half-century as he stitched a valuable partnership with Muzumdar for the fifth wicket. Though Muzumdar failed to carry on, trapped plumb going for a prod against Khanna, he had done enough to help Mumbai take the game out of Punjab's reach.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo