Zaheer's seven takes Mumbai close to title
A devastating Zaheer Khan was too much for Uttar Pradesh's batsmen and his second five-for in back-to-back Ranji Trophy finals took Mumbai within striking distance of a 38th title. Zaheer was the one big difference between Mumbai and Bengal two years ago, and he proved to be the same with UP. He didn't stop at five this time, taking two more wickets to finish the job emphatically, and helped Mumbai to a 157-run lead.
Umpiring continued to be the focus too. Shivakant Shukla, who resisted for 393 minutes and 99 runs, ended up on the wrong side of a marginal lbw decision, and that dismissal started UP's slide. Wasim Jaffer and Vinayak Samant helped themselves to fifties against a lacklustre UP in the second innings to put it almost beyond them.
It was almost unfair to unleash a superlative Zaheer on the domestic batsmen. He has played only three Ranji matches for Mumbai so far - he started his career with Baroda, and has rarely found time off from his international commitments since shifting to Mumbai. The first, when he took nine in the match against Bengal, brought them the 37th title. He was off colour in the second, in the semi-final this year, but has come back strongly with his best performance in the Ranji Trophy.
In his second spell with the second new ball today, Zaheer took five wickets for 20 runs, and UP went from 214 for 4 to 245 all out. He started the day with perhaps the highlight of the match: a spell of immaculate reverse-swing bowling, although he went wicketless because Parvinder Singh handled him admirably. That seven-over spell from Zaheer was a fierce interrogation that would have tested any Test batsman.
From round the stumps, and wide of the crease, Zaheer angled the ball in, and continuously got it to move away. He got Mohammad Kaif with a similar delivery yesterday, but Parvinder learned the lesson. He played as late as possible, kept the bat close to the body, and even took a blow on the forearm. There was no show of pain at that moment, and he went back to tackling Zaheer. Parvinder took 32 deliveries to get off the mark, but clearly he was not anxious about reaching that milestone, unlike Suresh Raina yesterday who ran himself out first ball.
Parvinder lost that intense concentration half an hour before lunch to let Mumbai sneak back. His first error proved to be his last, as he chased a juicy wide delivery from Abhishek Nayar. Along with a fortuitous Shukla, he had frustrated Mumbai for 126 minutes, but those minutes translated into only 55 runs for the partnership. Nayar, a modest medium-pacer at best, has this happy knack of getting match-turning breakthroughs. He did that again here.
After his 821-minute epic in the semi-final, Shukla had said he could bat on for three-four more days. It seemed the case, especially given the two dropped chances and various edges falling either short of fielders or in the gaps. But Shukla stayed patient, unhurried in his strokeplay and body language.
Zaheer got him to edge one though gully, before Dhawal Kulkarni got back-to-back edges off him. After surviving the second of those outside-edges, Shukla walked away from the stumps and admonished himself, keen to make the most of those chances. But four overs later, Ajit Agarkar beat him outside the off stump twice. And then he tried to cut Sairaj Bahutule, and expertly bisected first and second slip with an edge. Neither Jaffer, blind-sided by Samant's gloves, nor Ajinkya Rahane, at second slip, went for it. Shukla was 68 then.
Shukla's innings was similar to Rohit Sharma's, though he wasn't as quick, Two catches went unclaimed, he looked loose outside off, and in-between he hit a few attractive boundaries to reach 99. Along with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shukla added 68 for the fifth wicket in quick time. Bhuvneshwar played an odd cameo - characterised by being beaten outside off comprehensively at one time, and driving the next ball for a crisp boundary.
With more than 20 hours gone between dismissals for Shukla, it would have taken a special delivery to get him. Zaheer produced just that: a sharp inswinger, catching him in front of stumps. But Shukla was hit on the flap of the front pad, and height was a question. It was a touch-and-go decision, but one that went against UP again. Zaheer just proved too good against the other batsmen, who lacked application.
So crushing was Zaheer's effort that a dejected UP took the field with two days and a session to go still. Gone was the fizz their bowlers had in the first innings, and the resilience that has been their trademark all season. Jaffer and Samant found it easy, and did exactly what was required to start the home stretch towards yet another title.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo