Abdulla's maiden ton puts Mumbai on top
Saurashtra 94 for 2 (Pathak 47) trail Mumbai 580 for 9d (Abdulla 150*, Jaffer 138, Rohit 93) by 486 runs
Iqbal Abdulla's career-best score combined with two crucial wickets late in the day from Ramesh Powar put Mumbai in total command at the halfway mark against Saurashtra, who trail by a massive 486 runs. Taking advantage of an inexperienced bowling attack along with some overly defensive strategies employed by Saurashtra captain Jaydev Shah, Abdulla helped himself to his maiden century, and, if not for the declaration, was comfortably marching towards a double century.
On the previous evening, the pair of Wasim Jaffer and Rohit Sharma, whose brisk 147-run partnership had placed the hosts in a cosy position, had stressed that for Mumbai to remain assertive, it was necessary they add at least another 100 runs to their overnight total of 340 for 7. They ended up getting many more - 240 runs in two sessions - with the 163-run partnership for the eighth wicket between Ajit Agarkar and Abdulla crushing the will of the visitors completely.
Perhaps Saurashtra got a little complacent after bouncing back late yesterday with four wickets. Perhaps they eased up thinking Mumbai were left with only three wickets. Either way, they forgot that Agarkar has three first-class centuries to his credit, and has been one of Mumbai's rescue artists in the lower order for many years. Abdulla, his younger partner, is playing his third proper season, but in the past he has showed the tenacity to play his own game and not get bogged down by the situation.
The best example of his doughty character came during his previous best of 69, against Delhi in last year's Ranji semi-finals. Mumbai were in a somewhat similar position - they had logged 329 for 4 on the first day before ending up with a formidable score of 500 as Abdulla gave Abhishek Nayar, who made a gritty 156, ample support. If he played the second fiddle on that occasion, today Abdulla took centre stage and raced past Agarkar, who was unfortunate to miss out on his century after spooning an easy catch to Ravindra Jadeja at short mid-wicket, having been deceived by a slower one from Jayesh Odedra.
Abdulla was on 85 then, having attacked all the bowlers, which was probably something of a surprise for the visitors. Although the likes of Sandeep Maniar, Odedra, Jadeja and Rakesh Dhurv are collectively experienced, they lack the penetrative power that could blunt the opposition even on a slow pitch like at the Bandra Kurla Complex ground.
It was not brash strokeplay from Abdulla. He built his dominance with cheeky singles, rushed doubles, steers, glides and pull shots, along with regulation drives and pushes. As his vigil lengthened he understood the bowler's mindset, too. He knew Unadkat was trying to regain control by bowling quicker and pitching it shorter. Neither strategy proved a deterrent as Abdulla, unafraid, matched the debutant left-arm quick's aggression with his own. A back foot punched drive past mid-on took him into the 90s. The very next ball Abdulla raised eyebrows with a handsome pull off the front foot for six. He then reached his maiden first-class ton with two quick singles.
The best moment of the day arrived an hour into the second session. A frustrated Unadkat sent a quicker delivery that held its off- stump line. Using the bat with the ease of Charlie Chaplin swinging his cane, Abdulla simply opened the face of the bat and steered the ball towards third-man. The bowler was aghast. The fielder, Bhushan Chauhan, mocked the shot with a smile. He could not believe Abdulla was toying with the bowlers so freely.
Unfortunately there were not many smiling faces in the visitors' camp by the end. With the pitch steadily growing weary, Powar showed the opposition the art of slow turn. Though the diminutive Chirag Pathak, Saurashtra's David Warner, tried to force the issue, and even used the long handle against Powar initially, he finally paid the price for his overly aggressive mindset, beaten by the dip.
The biggest wicket for Mumbai was Sitanshu Kotak, Saurashtra's most experienced batsman, and a thorn in the flesh for Mumbai for as long as he has been playing cricket. For Saurashtra to stay alive it was imperative that Kotak come up with a marathon innings. He would not come close. The fourth delivery he faced was a regulation Powar off-break. Kotak lunged forward to tap it, but the bat-pad catch was pouched nicely by Sushant Marathe at short leg. Powar and Mumbai danced in ecstasy.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo