Srinivas and Vijay frustrate Mumbai
Tamil Nadu 501 (Badrinath 250, Ganapathy 126) and 255 for 4 dec (Vijay 154, Karthik 60) drew with Mumbai (Jaffer 141, Rahane 98, Srinivas 7-107)
In a spell befitting a champion spinner, 16-year-old Aushik Srinivas rattled Mumbai with his probing length and persistence and denied the hosts the crucial first-innings lead. Mumbai started the final day needing a further 193 runs to overtake Tamil Nadu's imposing first-innings 501 with seven wickets in hand, including the overnight centurion Wasim Jaffer. However, Srinivas squashed their hopes in the very first hour of the morning with a mesmerising spell of left-arm spin and returned figures of 8.1-4-11-6.
From 314 for 4, Mumbai lost their way drastically. The next six wickets fell for the addition of just 44 runs, the last four wickets going down with the score stuck at 358. Mumbai lost Omkar Khanwilkar, Jaffer's overnight partner, quickly as the left-hander failed misread the line of a straighter delivery from C Ganpathy and was rapped on the pads and declared plumb in front.
The responsibility was solely Jaffer's now, in the absence of any support at the other end. Even if Abhishek Nayar had joined him, his present form probably might not have given confidence to his captain. Nayar has successfully used the long handle in crunch situations in the past, but this season barring a half-century in the first game against Punjab, he has been struggling. He had just 73 runs in four games before this match.
Meanwhile Tamil Nadu, led by Srinivas, were steadily loosening Mumbai's grip, built by Jaffer-Ajinkya Rahane combine yesterday. Runs slowed down and Jaffer was slightly desperate. In this scattered frame of mind he tried reverse0sweeping a delivery that pitched on middle stump and held its line, but missed the line and the ball hit his bent knee. Srinivas appealed fervently, in unison with the entire Tamil Nadu team, but their plea was turned down. Two balls later Jaffer attempted the same shot against a similar delivery with the only difference being the change in pace. This time the top edge flew wide and to the right of first slip where Murali Vijay plucked a super catch with his right hand.
Understandably Srinivas and Tamil Nadu celebrated rapturously, because Jaffer was their chief nemesis. Credit should go to the prodigious tweaker, born in Coimbatore, who thankfully was advised by one of the coaches at a talent camp to become a spinner instead of chasing ambitions of becoming a medium-pace bowler.
On Thursday Srinivas had gained the upper hand against Ajinky Rahane in an engrossing contest. Though Jaffer had used his rich experience to quell Srinivas' challenge, he knew he couldn't afford to take the youngster lightly. The best example to gauge the impact of Srinivas was to compare him to Iqbal Abdulla, Mumbai's second spinner, and a left-arm orthodox one at that. Never in either innings did Abdulla assert himself over the Tamil Nadu batting and even to a layman the reasons were clear: while Srinivas attacked with flight and varying pace, Abdulla mostly darted the ball at a fuller length.
Little wonder then that Mumbai's lower order and tail failed miserably against Srinivas. Nayar tried to defend on the front foot but ended up offering a simple return catch to Srinivas. Next ball Ramesh Powar lunged forward to pat the ball down but his outstretched back foot was raised allowing the proactive wicketkeeper U Sushil to knock off the bails. Though Srinivas missed out on a hat-trick he got lucky when Abdulla played casually into the hands of Ganpathy at silly mid-on. Dhawal Kulkarni tried to play with hard hands against a flighted delivery, which couldn't even cross Ganpathy. Usman Malvi then stepped out valiantly and was stumped. Mumbai's fall was quick and embarrassing, and it came at the little hands of Srinivas.
Vijay made it more painful for Mumbai by scoring a blistering 150, bringing up his century in the second session thereby enlivening the rest of the day. Having three points, Tamil Nadu have are assured themselves a quarter-finals berth while Mumbai, at 16 points, need to make sure they do not lose outright in their final league clash at home against Gujarat starting on December 15.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo