Mumbai 287 (Tare 127, Mangela 55, Irfan 3-47, Yusuf 3-90) lead Baroda 184 (Pandya 53, Sandhu 4-35, Harmeet 4-52) by 103 runs
Mumbai's medium-pacer Balwinder Sandhu and left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh exploited the bowler-friendly conditions to ensure captain Aditya Tare's commendable hundred was backed with a solid bowling performance. Thanks to the duo's effort, Mumbai got the vital 103-run lead against Baroda halfway into the match in Vadodara.
Sandhu and Harmeet took four wickets apiece to restrict Baroda to 184, after Mumbai scored 287 in their first innings. On a pitch that has shown uneven bounce and sharp turn at times, a lead of 103 could end up being the decisive factor. If Mumbai are to keep their Ranji Trophy campaign alive, their specialist batsmen will have to put on a much better performance than in the first innings.
Both Sandhu and Harmeet were staging a comeback to the Mumbai team after a long time. Sandhu last played for Mumbai in November 2013 and was not considered thereafter. He wasn't even a part of the squad for the first six games of this season.
Harmeet, on the other hand, was overlooked after his Duleep Trophy appearance for West Zone at the start of the 2012-13 season. The young spinner, who was dragged into the IPL corruption scandal, was dropped from the Mumbai U-23 side earlier in the season due to lack of wickets. With a dearth of talent in Mumbai cricket, the selectors heeded the team management's plea to bring Harmeet in after Iqbal Abdulla and Vishal Dabholkar had disappointing stints.
As a result, the pressure was immense on both bowlers when Mumbai took the field at the start of the post-lunch session. Sandhu and Shardul Thakur, the only consistent bowler this season for Mumbai, bent their backs and extracted appreciable bounce off a pitch that didn't really have anything for pace bowlers. Sandhu was pitching the ball on the seam consistently but was unlucky as the Baroda openers did not edge the ball despite missing umpteen times.
Sandhu was finally rewarded in his seventh over when Kedar Devdhar nicked one to Tare behind the wickets. Three balls later, he cleaned up Baroda captain Aditya Waghmode with one that was pitched in the right channel and jagged back in to beat the batsman. When he forced southpaw Saurabh Wakaskar to nick one to Tare in his next over, Sandhu had put Mumbai on top.
As the Mumbai pacers looked like they would run through the side, Yusuf Pathan tried an aggressive approach. After hitting Thakur for a couple of boundaries in the next over, Yusuf had no answer to one that got high on him, and ended up offering catching practice to Shreyas Iyer at gully after an innings of 9.
Baroda could have conceded a massive lead when Deepak Hooda, the side's best batsman of the season, edged Thakur to Tare on five. However, replays showed that Thakur had overstepped. After the reprieve, Hooda saw off the session with Hardik Pandya, who scored a solid fifty before being run-out.
At tea, Baroda were 114 for 4, hoping for the set duo to continue. But Sandhu came back for another burst and accounted for Hooda in the fifth over of the last session with the ball of the day. After pitching it on the off-stump, the ball moved a wee bit off the seam and Hooda's defensive stroke resulted in an edge to Tare.
By then, the underprepared pitch had started behaving oddly. Harmeet bowled in the correct areas and saw the ball rising above waist-height. Young spinners can get carried away on helpful tracks and start experimenting, but Harmeet stuck to bowling the off-stump line and ran through the lower order. Three of his four dismissals were edges to Suryakumar Yadav at first slip, evidence of his accuracy.
Akshay Girap provided a perfect foil to Harmeet with his off spin, extending a similar role he had played with the bat in the morning to help Tare register his maiden century of the season and push Mumbai's score closer to 300.
The visitors started the day at 218 for 6 and in less than an hour were reeling at 237 for 9. None of the lower order batsmen had an answer to Pathan brothers' onslaught, especially Irfan who impressed in his long spell. Tare was in danger of running out of partners but Girap provided much-needed support, and played with him more than an hour and a half.
Tare played a memorable innings, farming the strike even when he was in the 90s before playing a delightful straight drive off Munaf Patel to complete his fifth first-class century. With Girap blocking a ball or two every over, Tare switched gears after reaching his century. The wicketkeeper-batsman who is leading Mumbai for the first time in a Ranji match scored 60 of his team's 69 runs in the morning session before Girap's resistance ended 10 minutes before scheduled lunch.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo