Pace finds its voice through Salvi and Mithun
This Ranji season has been blighted by a surplus of batting snooze-fests. Only a third of this edition's matches have ended in outright results, whereas in 2008-09 more than half ended decisively. The talk of a green-top in the lead-up to the final elicited hope that the ball would get a chance to talk before the season ended.
Two days into the final, 25 wickets have tumbled, 22 of those to the quick men, and the batsmen have rarely stopped hopping. The denouement is yet to play out in its entirety, but one already gets the feeling that the last act could not have been scripted better.
After R Vinay Kumar took centre stage on Monday morning, it was the turn of Aavishkar Salvi and Abhimanyu Mithun to step into the limelight on Tuesday. All season long, Mumbai has managed to find a player to pull them out of every hole they have found themselves in. It was Salvi's turn today. Mumbai had folded for 233 after choosing to bat, and were up against a team that had made at least 260 in the first innings in each of their eight matches this season.
On a responsive pitch, Mumbai's new-ball bowlers, Ajit Agarkar and Dhawal Kulkarni, were tormenting the Karnataka batsmen with their movement, when Salvi got a chance. A bowler who relies more on accuracy than pace, he joined in the fun with a bunch of maidens, but was guilty of starting his swing from too far outside off to trouble the batsmen.
Once he improved his line, the batsmen started to struggle to get bat on ball. In his fifth over, G Satish edged the first two deliveries but neither carried to slip. Three balls later, Satish drove hard at another off-stump delivery, and this time the edge was pouched at third slip.
Glenn McGrath has long been Salvi's role model, and the delivery to remove Manish Pandey for a golden duck was straight out of the Australian's handbook - pitching just short of a length outside off stump and angling in.
Pandey looked to work it to the leg side and missed the ball that was destined to strike off. That made it two in two for Salvi, and the Mumbai side knew that they were turning the match around on its head. Salvi prised out the opener KB Pawan in his next over, Ramesh Powar taking a screamer at short-cover. The three top-order blows put Mumbai in control after which Salvi picked up a couple of tail-end wickets to complete a deserved five-for.
"I will rate it as my best performance," he said after the day's play. "It's a dream come true to get a five-wicket haul in the finals of Ranji Trophy."
It was his first since November 2003, which was a heady time for Salvi. He had then just turned 23, and was in the Indian one-day side after two wicket-filled domestic seasons. However, a string of back injuries not only ended his national chances, but also cost him a regular spot in the Mumbai side. "The most important thing is that I am still playing cricket," he said. "The injuries which I have had, it was really tough and now that I am still playing even after that gives me immense satisfaction."
The other fast-bowling hero of the day, Mithun, is a study in complete contrast to Salvi - he is a hit-the-deck bowler who depends on pace and swears by bouncers and yorkers. He has no concerns about picking injuries that could put him out of action. He has already had a glittering start to his first-class career, highlighted by barnstorming performances in two matches against Uttar Pradesh.
Today, after a season in which Karnataka have swept all before them, Mithun found himself in the unfamiliar position of an opposition dominating the match. His response was superb, ripping out three specialist batsmen in his first eight balls, the last two scalps off consecutive deliveries. "When we lost the first-innings lead, we wanted to come all-out at them as this is the last chance in the season," he said.
The atmosphere around the ground at that stage was electric, the full house that had been stunned by Salvi in the morning were now baying for a hat-trick. It is hard to imagine such a scene at a Ranji game in one of the international centers, but the people of Mysore had turned up by the thousands, and domestic cricket was richer for their presence.
There was one more wicket for Mithun, that of Mumbai's first-innings rescuer, Vinayak Samant, which moved Mithun to the top of the bowling charts, ahead of his team-mate R Vinay Kumar. "It feels good to become the leading wicket taker in Ranji Trophy, but my focus is only on winning the match," he said. "The match is still open and anyone can win from this stage."
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo