Sachin Tendulkar's unbeaten 79 in his final domestic match was the difference between Mumbai and Haryana, Ajay Jadeja has said.
"The innings he played made all the difference," Jadeja, the Haryana captain, said. "In a score of 240, if someone makes 79 not out, then that settles the game. If he is not out, this only tells you that if they needed 25 more or 50 more he may still have got them. Till you get a batsman out, there's always the chance that he'll take the game away from you."
Jadeja tried about as hard as he could to make things difficult for Mumbai with innovative field placements, something his counterpart Zaheer Khan commended. Jadeja placed third man so fine at times for Tendulkar he was standing beside the sightscreen in line behind second slip. He let Dhawal Kulkarni face a bouncer barrage from Mohit Sharma with a short leg and a silly point standing in the batsman's face. Jadeja felt Haryana were in the game till the very end.
"Yes, we lost, but as Zaheer said, no one knew who was going to win till the end. If you look at Mumbai they have lost only 19 matches in the last 70 years… Even with only four runs needed I felt we had a chance. Gameplans come and go, some work, some don't. It was pretty simple, we had to get Tendulkar. There's no team in the world that can win when Tendulkar is in the opposition and you don't get him out. We tried but we couldn't. You call him god, I call him master. If you go by what you call him, then who can fight god and win?"
Jadeja said despite the loss, his players would take a lot from this match, and hoped that Haryana would get an opportunity to play Mumbai again in the knockouts. "I don't think there is anyone in the Haryana dressing room who thinks we haven't progressed in the last four days. The journey never ends. Sachin showed us today that even after 25 years the journey doesn't end. There's always something more to learn.
"We have to get better and make progress. There will be losses along the way. But, hopefully we'll have a chance to play Mumbai again this season, in the final or one of the knockouts. You can't win the Ranji Trophy without beating Mumbai."
The game, played in the village of Lahli outside the city of Rohtak, was watched by thousands of fans on all four days. Jadeja said that at smaller venues, one usually got good attendances, which boosted the players. "Any player wants to see people watching him. Unfortunately, most of us who live in cities don't have the time to go and watch Ranji Trophy games. Here we do get people. If you are in a smaller town, you get crowds and that encourages players to give their best. At the end of the day we are here to play and if there's no one watching it's not as much fun as when there's a full house, whether that's 5000 or 10,000 or 100,000."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo