Rohit Sharma played his second important innings of the Ranji Trophy final as Mumbai batted Uttar Pradesh out of the match. For a session and a half, the UP bowlers put on a spirited performance, but Vinayak Samant, at first, and Rohit kept them at bay with contrasting centuries. In truly khadoos manner, Mumbai didn't declare even when the lead had gone beyond any reasonable proportions. But that's how Mumbai play their cricket: when your opponents are down, grind them into dust.
With three sessions to go, UP will need the highest successful chase in the Ranji Trophy (previous record: Assam's 371 for 4 against Services earlier this season), and the second-highest fourth-innings score in the tournament's history to win the match. Well that's an academic thought.
UP's tough task was set by Samant, who scored his maiden first-class century after being promoted to open in the last league match of the season, and Rohit, who became only the sixth batsman to score two centuries in a Ranji Trophy final. The last to do so was Sachin Tendulkar against Punjab in 1994-95.
On a personal level Tendulkar wouldn't have enjoyed this final. In the first innings he scored his first duck in Indian domestic cricket, then spent the whole UP innings off the field because of a viral fever, and managed only 4 from No. 7 in the second innings. He was the last wicket of a middle-order collapse that had given UP a faint glimmer.
But UP had bowled their hearts and their bodies out to reduce Mumbai from 130 for 0 to 241 for 6. After bowling 16 successive overs for one wicket in the first session, Praveen Kumar went off the field and was disqualified from bowling when UP were forced to take the second new ball after 100 overs (a rule in Indian domestic cricket).
Although part-time medium-pacer Parvinder Singh and Piyush Chawla did a commendable job in the middle session, UP were always short of time and behind by too much. By the time the second new ball was taken Rohit had beaten them into submission with attractive strokeplay. And with RP Singh off the field throughout the day, Bhuvneshwar Kumar had to share the new ball with Praveen Gupta, the left-arm spinner.
UP were not so deflated in the morning, though. A spirited effort from the Kumars, Bhuvneshwar and Praveen, who troubled the batsmen consistently by moving a semi-new ball, caused Mumbai to wobble. But Samant didn't give in. He put behind him the edges and plays-and-misses, and nudged and late-cut his way to a satisfactory hundred. Samant started the day on 53 and got the majority of his runs through late-cuts. He played those shots with soft hands, made sure he kept them along the ground, and found the gap between two slips and two gullies regularly. Even in his 90s, he played two such strokes. Samant and his team-mates were overjoyed at his reaching the century: they knew he had taken them one session closer to the title.
After Samant became part of the middle-order collapse, which included a pair for Ramesh Powar and an embarrassing 24-ball stay for Ajinkya Rahane, the second-highest run-getter of the season, Rohit took advantage of aggressive field settings.
He was much surer than he was in the first innings and didn't look hurried even though he had to wait 27 balls for his first run. Those first runs were three consecutive boundaries off Chawla - a flick wide of mid-on, a pull, and a straight loft. Rohit kept picking on Chawla, slog-sweeping every time the bowler tried a googly. He knew that UP had employed aggressive fields, and even mis-hits would fall safe. The elegance that separates Rohit from other domestic batsmen was on liberal display, with gorgeous drives and pulls decorating his century.
Even after Parvinder took two wickets in two balls, Sairaj Bahutule and Dhawal Kulkarni frustrated UP for 17.3 overs and 20 runs. UP will have no ground for complaints, because they did the same to Gujarat two matches ago. After securing a 188-run first-innings lead in the quarter-final, they didn't enforce a follow-on and went on to bat until they were bowled out - giving Gujarat 564 to chase in one-and-a-half session. What goes around comes around.