Mumbai v Saurashtra, Ranji Trophy Super League, Mumbai, 3rd November 3, 2010

Pratik Mehta ton keeps Saurashtra afloat

Saurashtra 364 for 7 (Mehta 100*, Cahuhan 63) trail Mumbai 580 for 9 dec. by 216 runs

Pratik Mehta's unbeaten, maiden first-class century, twelve years since his debut, kept Saurashtra alive in their season-opener against Mumbai. With one day remaining, the visitors were 66 adrift of the follow-on mark with three wickets in hand. Not an easy task, especially given the manner in which Ramesh Powar imposed himself on the third day to grab his 22nd first-class five-wicket haul, trapping Rakesh Dhurv three deliveries before the close of play.

Powar's role was going to be crucial, even if the pitch was on the flatter side. Bowling was hard work but the wicket still offered decent turn and there were stray spots from which the ball jumped up. Powar brought in his experience and allied it with disciplined lengths and lines. It only meant more distress for the opponent.

Having lost two early wickets on the second evening, Saurashtra's hope was that one of their middle-order batsmen could stand up to the tall task. With the experienced Shitanshu Kotak gone for a duck on Tuesday, and in the absence of the dependable Cheteshwar Pujara (on India duty), the onus was on Ravindra Jadeja.

In the last year, Jadeja was in the headlines for having been banned from IPL 2010 after it seemed he had broken the terms and conditions of his contract. Having sat on the bench for an extended period of time, the allrounder was desperate to bounce back, but has been unable to cement his place in the Indian ODI side. Recently MS Dhoni publicly stated that it was important for Jadeja to perform with the bat.

Jadeja started in a determined fashion, simultaneously assisting and backing Bhushan Chauhan, his overnight partner. The pair survived the first hour of the morning without any fuss, picking some easy runs as the Mumbai bowling worked hard. With his fast-bowling trio of Ajit Agarkar, Avishkar Salvi and Javed Khan failing to make any dents, Wasim Jaffer resorted to Rohit Sharma's part-time offspin.

Bowling from round the wicket, Rohit pitched his third ball a yard outside Jadeja's off stump. The ball spat, surprising Jadeja who had already committed to defend on the front foot, and gave Sushant Marathe, at silly point, an easy catch. Then Chauhan, trying to steer a straighter delivery from Powar, watched it go straight to Jaffer at first slip.

Two quick wickets within the first hour of the second session - Jaydev Shah and Sagar Jogiyani - put Saurashtra virtually on the precipice. Mehta was an unknown entity. At 32, he had hardly any feathers in his cap, except for four half-centuries. He might say he was dropped frequently but that was because his deeds were not strong enough to get him the long rope. Still, he continued to cling on, waiting to prove a point. Today things went the way of the left-arm spinner, who spends his time away from cricket as a clerk in the Rajkot division of Western Railways.

With an upright right elbow, and a loose bottom-handed grip, Patel got into position quickly to play his shots. Interestingly, his repertoire was not limited. When the ball was pitched wide outside off stump, he didn't mind gliding it behind square. When Iqbal Abdulla and Powar pitched it on the leg stump, Mehta played the paddle sweep confidently. When Agarkar, Salvi and Javed tried to attack him with short ones, he used his short stature and quick feet to unleash the pull shot.

Two paddle sweeps, one against Powar and the other against Rohit, got him into the nineties and he completed his ton with a cut past the point boundary off Abdulla. Even before he completed the run, he started celebrating the milestone, raising his bat.

Unfortunately the visitors lost Rakesh Dhurv, who helped Mehta in a battling 152-run partnership for the seventh wicket. Dhurv, 29, has been an established allrounder in the Saurashtra side for more than a decade. Today, like most successful batsmen in the match, he took advantage of the blandness in the pitch and rotated the strike smartly.

Their growing alliance was proving an irritant for the impatient hosts who, at one point, had aspirations of an outright victory. But Powar, bowling the final over of the day, pitched a straighter delivery from round the stumps. Dhurv offered no shot and was rapped on the front pad. Mumbai appealed loudly and the umpire upheld the decision. Dhurv was unimpressed.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo