Aditya Tare, the Mumbai captain, lauded birthday boy Abhishek Nayar's counterattack that helped the defending champions scrape home by two wickets in a low-scoring thriller against Tamil Nadu in their Ranji Trophy opener in Lahli.
Set a target of 97, Nayar came in at the fall of the third wicket on 24 and then watched the side slide to 35 for 5. He then conjured a fighting unbeaten 56-ball 45 with the tail to see Mumbai through on what Tare described a "tricky wicket."
"One person you can bank on during crisis is Abhishek Nayar," Tare told ESPNcricinfo. "He is a specialist when it comes to playing under pressure and he's done it a lot of times in the past. The wicket had already started to deteriorate. It would viciously bounce or keep low because the cracks had widened. It was always never going to be a cakewalk for us. I thought we did pretty well to hold our nerves."
While there were inevitable comparisons to Mumbai's one-wicket heist against Tamil Nadu last season, both Tare and Nayar said that game hadn't crossed their minds during the chase.
Nayar, who turned 33, revealed he was promoted - he had batted at No.7 in the first innings - to counter Rahil Shah's left-arm spin. "Chandu sir [coach Chandrakant Pandit] sent me up the order because their left-arm spinner, Rahil [Shah], was bowling really well," Nayar explained. "So, they sent me to try and get him out of the attack and get some runs flowing. The mindset was that I have to play aggressively and take them on."
Nayar was appreciative of No. 9 batsman Balwinder Singh Sandhu, who contributed 12 runs to their 30-run stand for the eighth wicket. "I expected five-six runs from each one of them and if they could collectively get 10, I could get the remaining 40," he said. But with Sandhu prised out by Aswin Crist with Mumbai needing seven, Nayar decided to take a chance against debutant seamer K Vignesh, who had a memorable debut, picking up nine wickets.
The move worked as Nayar smashed a six off the first ball with a "pick-up shot" to level the scores before hitting the winning run two balls later. "I wasn't sure whether or not we will be able to sustain for one more over because the ball was doing quite a bit and they were bowling well," he said. "So, I decided to take a chance in the first ball of the over. Because I knew what he was bowling to me - he was bowling that to me for quite a while - I set myself up for that. I just gave it a full throttle, hoping that even if I didn't time it, the ball would still go out of the ground."
While scoring was difficult, Nayar also credited Tamil Nadu for their accuracy. "It was basically a very green pitch. Initially, there was a very thick covering of grass that made it very tough for stroke-play. What made things more difficult was the outfield was super slow, so getting boundaries was not easy. In normal grounds where you get four runs, you get two for it. Later on, the cracks widened up on the pitch, so it was quite uneven.
"We ended up batting in the toughest session of the game - in the morning - when the ball did the most. With the new ball, I anticipated them to come in hard and they bowled really well, so kudos to them. "
Tare admitted it was nerve-wracking for him to watch the chase unfold."I was just sitting in the dressing room by myself with my pads on, with sweaty palms ball after ball," he said. "I just can't stay out and rub my anxiety on to others. It is a sort of superstition and a way of hiding my nervousness also."
He also singled out the will to win as a constant trait of any Mumbai team. "In many situations, many teams would give up, or they wouldn't know how to win, but our history is such that there have been so many games which we have almost lost, but the Mumbai team has won it," he said. "There is a lot of faith in one another and not giving up. That's what we showed today."