The IPL has done funny things to Indian cricket, particularly the fan. How else do you explain lusty cheering for
Mumbai Indians Baroda allrounder Hardik Pandya as he tried with all his might to thwart Mumbai's chances of securing a vital first innings lead at Wankhede stadium? Sure, there is merit in the theory that he is an India player, but MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli apart, not many have such a hold over crowds across the country.
If it was a case of conflicted emotions - although there was no sign of it as the small crowd chanted his name like an anthem - they got the best of both worlds. Pandya obliged with a 137-ball 73 but Mumbai clung on to the cliff edge, securing a 29-run lead that may just keep them afloat in the Ranji Trophy.
Pandya may have missed a maiden Ranji Trophy hundred, but it was his first major contribution with the bat in red-ball cricket since a whirlwind 93 at the start of the year in Cape Town. (He'd made a fifty against Afghanistan in between, but that came after India's total had already gone past 300)
Baroda had other heroes as well. Aditya Waghmode batted in khadoos mode to make 114 off 304 balls and Vishnu Solanki produced a more free flowing 133 to give Pandya the time he needed to find his feet, both literally and figuratively. At lunch he was batting on 3 off 29, struggling for rhythm but untroubled by the bowling as such.
Match situations, though, can be fickle, and after cruising for 121 overs and looking set to surpass Mumbai's 465 by a significant margin, wickets fell, as though through a series of trapdoors. A comfortable 351 for 3 became 378 for 6 when tea was taken, and two overs post resumption Baroda had slipped to a precarious 379 for 7. At that stage, it seemed like they were running out of luck, exemplified by Solanki's questionable lbw decision earlier in the day, but soon enough Pandya was bowled off a no-ball and it became a level playing field once again.
Reprieved on 41, he brought his side within 29 runs of Mumbai's total before being pinned in front by Royston Dias as he tried to steal a single off the last ball of the over. It was not unlike the position he was in a few months ago at Edgbaston, when India needed 32 to win and Pandya was left with the awkward job of refusing singles when the field was spread, and scampering across when it came up. Eventually he was led to play a shot that wasn't meant to fetch him runs or protect his stumps and he was dismissed.
The difference here is that there's an innings left and Pandya could enjoy the perks of who he is - an allrounder - and influence the result. While Mumbai would have undoubtedly been the happier side, having taken the lead, given the lack of time left in the game, they were also the only ones left in a position to throw it away - a tendency common among teams batting without purpose on final days. With his two quick wickets before stumps, Pandya has stoked that possibility.