Rahane and Kukreja strengthen Mumbai
Mumbai 198 for 1 (Rahane 89*, Kukreja 83*) trail Hyderabad 266 (Quadri 76*) by 68 runs
On another soporific day of cricket, Mumbai's top order returned to form against a listless Hyderabad attack to seize control of the match. The biggest gain on a dominant day for Mumbai was the chanceless innings from Ajinkya Rahane, his first major contribution this Ranji season. He combined with opener Sahil Kukreja for a patient, unbroken 171-run stand to leave Hyderabad nervously glancing at scores from the match featuring their companions at the bottom of Group A, Himachal Pradesh.
It had been a promising start from Hyderabad's bowlers, troubling the Mumbai openers in the 10 overs before lunch. Vinayak Samant, the latest occupant of the merry-go-round at the top of Mumbai's batting, faced a particularly torrid over from Ashwin Yadav - surviving a massive lbw shout, then barely getting to block a ball, which kept lower than he expected.
Samant was gone three balls after the break, prodding at a delivery outside off giving wicketkeeper Ibrahim Khaleel a regulation catch. Hyderabad were buoyed by the wicket, and Ajinkya Rahane's entry was greeted by a shout of 'aayega, aayega, bahut baat kar raha tha fielding mein' (we'll get him, he was talking a lot while fielding) from fast bowler MP Arjun at fine leg. There wasn't to be any more breakthroughs for Hyderabad, though, as Rahane and Kukreja cut out the flash shots and unrelentingly pushed Mumbai forward.
The pair was initially helped by a diet of legstump offerings, which were clipped towards midwicket for some cheap runs. Their running between the wickets was also sharper than Hyderabad's batsmen, shown by the many threes that Mumbai picked up.
The bowling started to flag in the face of the solid batting, with the lack of pace in the surface allowing the wicketkeeper to stand up to the hulking fast bowler, Shoaib Ahmed. Hyderabad shuffled their bowlers around to no avail. The frustration increased when their complaints about the condition of the ball were not heeded by the umpire - there were eight appeals from the home side before the ball was finally changed (for the second time in the innings).
Things perked up just before tea as Rahane punched a full delivery past Arjun for four and followed it up with a cover-driven boundary to bring up his half-century. Soon after tea, Kukreja reached his fifty in even finer style, blasting Amol Shinde for a six over long-on.
By now, both batsman were in fine touch and the run-rate started to make a slow ascent. Kukreja charged down the track, even to the fast bowlers, and worked them around for singles, while Rahane's drives and flicks kept him moving along. Arjun's annoyance at his lack of impact showed when he flung the ball back towards Rahane after a defensive push from the batsman.
With no encouragement in the wicket for the bowlers, it seemed the most interesting question towards stumps was which of the batsmen would reach triple figures first. Inexplicably, though, both batsmen shut shop after moving into the 80s, playing out four maidens, after 25 consecutive scoring overs.
The Mumbai top order's efforts came after a 20-over spell of resistance from the Hyderabad tail. Overnight batsman Syed Quadri slapped the third ball of the day through cover to reach his half-century, but there was no rush to move the score along when batting with the lower order. Just as Mumbai were getting antsy at getting only one wicket in 19 overs on the day, a couple of run-outs ended Hyderabad's go-slow at 266.
Mumbai coach, Praveen Amre, termed those two run-outs "the best thing to see" but was even more thrilled with Rahane's performance. "Everyone was looking for runs from Rahane," he said, "and he looked rock solid and very confident. There was pressure on him because Mumbai isn't a side that carries non-performers, the person who is sitting out is equally good."
Mumbai have been at 14 for 2, or worse, at least once in each of their matches this season, so the big stand was just what they needed. "They have given us a solid foundation, more than 150 runs partnership after a long time," Amre said. "The top order had to contribute, their failure was putting a lot of pressure on the middle order."
There was even more good news for him as Rohit Sharma's shoulder injury proved to be not too serious. The only relief for Hyderabad, though, was that Manpreet Gony had shot out HP for 82 after Punjab had conceded a first-innings lead.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo