Rahane and Jaffer seal Mumbai win
Mumbai 436 for dec (Muzumdar 113, Rohit 85, Rahane 80) and 151 for 1 (Rahane 82*, Jaffer 52*) beat Punjab 202 (Kakkar 67, Shaikh 4-50) and 382 (Kaul 136*, Kakkar 58) by nine wickets
Mumbai maintained their supremacy, thrashing Punjab by nine wickets in their final match of the group stage. Ajinkya Rahane and Wasim Jaffer swiftly overhauled the target of 149 before the stroke of lunch on the final day. Rahane added an unbeaten 82, to go along with his first-innings 80, and combined well with his captain as the undefeated 130-run second-wicket partnership extinguished Punjab's hopes.
Punjab had offered stiff resistance in the final two sessions the previous day, with Uday Kaul's century and attacking knocks by Ankur Kakkar (58) and Chandan Madan (32) impeding Mumbai's march. However, within the first half an hour on day four, the visitors folded, leaving Kaul stranded on 136.
Mumbai's opening pair of Jaffer and Vinayak Samant then started aggressively. The first scoring shot was a boundary - a steer by Samant past gully off Gagandeep Singh. Two overs later, against the same bowler, Samant guided a short and wide delivery to the point boundary, two deliveries after a Chinese cut had evaded the stumps.
Jaffer started off on a scratchy note, unable to get behind the line, but played his first confident stroke, a firm on-drive past mid-on for a four off Gagandeep. Punjab's fleeting moment of joy arrived when Amanpreet Singh trapped Samant leg-before as he tried to play across, but they must have braced themselves at the sight of Rahane, the highest run-getter this season in the tournament.
Rahane opened his account with a back-foot punch for four off Gagandeep, and then skimmed a leg glance to the boundary in the same over. In the next over, against Amanpreet, Jaffer shifted gears with three fours: the first, a classic front-foot drive past the straight boundary followed two balls later with a whipped glance past fine leg, and finally an on-drive in front of square.
Even the spin combination of Varun Khanna and Sarabjit Ladda failed to put brakes as the runs poured mostly in boundaries. Watching the Mumbai duo dish out their brilliance, one could easily feel they were competing against each other: if Jaffer drove through extra cover off Ladda on the back foot, Rahane hit consecutive fours off Khanna. For Punjab though, this mini-battle was hurting them as the pair soon brought up their respective fifties.
Two overs before lunch Mumbai were on the cusp of victory with 22 runs needed and clearly they did not intend to take the break. Rahane drove Kakkar past the stranded fielders at short cover and cover, followed by consecutive fours, both cut shots, and Mumbai needed just eight off the final over from Ladda. Another Rahane boundary meant just one run was needed and both captains decided to prolong play. Rahane deservingly hit the winning stroke, a square drive that rushed past cover.
Jaffer was all praise for Rahane, and believed he was ready for the No.3 position in the Indian Test team. "He has proved he can counter-attack as well as stay put according to the situation and he is definitely a contender for the No. 3 slot."
Despite entering the knock-out stage, Jaffer pointed out that there was still work to do, particularly in the bowling department, which has struggled even with the likes of Dhawal Kulkarni, one the best bowlers this season, among their ranks. "The knock-outs is a new phase and the intensity will be key. When there is nothing much happening, the bowlers need to keep it simple instead of giving easy runs."
Mumbai finished the league campaign as group leaders with the maximum number of outright wins (five), and will now meet Himachal Pradesh in the quarter-finals in Ahmedabad starting on December 26.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo