Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo
The legendary khadoos (bloody-minded) approach of Mumbai cricket denied Karnataka a Sankranti gift at a jam-packed Gangothri Glades, pipping the home side by six runs in one of the most gripping Ranji finals ever. A carefree Manish Pandey century loosened Mumbai's grip on the title, but their self-belief never flagged and they prised out the last seven wickets for 76 runs to secure a 39th trophy in a tension-filled finale.
It was a match either side could have won, but the assistance provided by the second new ball after lunch tipped the game in Mumbai's favour. When it was taken in the 81st over Karnataka had four wickets and still needed 47 to complete the tallest chase in a Ranji final, and Stuart Binny and Sunil Joshi had settled the crowd's nerves by collecting 31 quick runs. A pumped-up burst from Dhawal Kulkarni and Ajit Agarkar, though, gouged out the lower order, and Karnataka couldn't wipe out the blot of never having beaten Mumbai outright in the Ranji Trophy.
Binny fell in 82nd over, playing across the line to a Kulkarni delivery that left him to take out the offstump. Seven runs later, Joshi also fell looking to play to the on-side only to nick it through to the keeper off Agarkar.
With 35 more needed, R Vinay Kumar got the fans cheering again by sashaying down the track to swat Agarkar past the non-striker for four. In his next over, Agarkar banged in a bouncer that was so high that it went for five wides, and with Vinay and S Aravind picking off the singles, they whittled down the runs required to 16.
What followed was perhaps the most dramatic over of the day. Vinay, the last Karnataka player with any batting proficiency, was bowled first ball off an incutter from Kulkarni, who shook his fist in front of the batsman's face to give him a send-off. Last man Abhimanyu Mithun squeezed a single off the next delivery, and in-between two footwork-free swings at wide deliveries that prompted rebukes from the Karnataka fans, Aravind swiped one to midwicket for four. The match would have been over off the final ball, but Ajinkya Rahane missed an overhead chance from Aravind at gully.
Rahane wasn't crestfallen for too long, though, as Aravind popped back a catch to Agarkar four deliveries later to prompt over-the-top Mumbai celebrations that soured what had been a fantastic finish. As the Mumbai team enjoyed the moment near the boundary, Abhishek Nayar, and then a few others, made a series of furious gestures towards the Karnataka dressing-room.
The drama towards the end overshadowed what had been perhaps the innings of the season from Pandey earlier on in the day. Plenty of wickets had fallen in the first session each day of this match, but Pandey continued to tap the same attacking vein he had been on Wednesday evening. In the sixth over of the morning, three Pandey boundaries in four Agarkar deliveries- a classic pull to midwicket, a tennis-serve like swat towards long-on and a superbly-timed clip to midwicket - let Mumbai know they were in for a scrap.
Pandey was hardly letting any delivery through to the keeper, and Mumbai couldn't come up with ways to keep the scoring down. It took him only four deliveries to move from 90 to 100, and with his partnership with Satish swelling past 150, the target was not looking that far away any more.
At the other end, G Satish was playing a valuable, if not wholly convincing, innings. He frustrated Wasim Jaffer not just with his adhesiveness but also with a series of edges that flew either side of the Mumbai captain at second slip. While Pandey was finding batting to be a stroll in the park, Satish was finding it to be a cross-country hike. There were nicks aplenty, and many of his boundaries were streaky ones past gully but he persevered, trying to give the free-flowing Pandey the strike as much as possible.
With the fast bowlers ineffective, Ramesh Powar was brought on, but Pandey dismantled him with a series of twinkle-toed shots. Karnataka never looked more likely to win the match than when Pandey clubbed Powar to long-on for four and then in the same area for the match's first six to bring the target below 100.
The only other frontline bowler still untried was left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdulla, who was greeted first ball by Pandey with a contemptuous mow against the spin to midwicket. The score was beyond 250, the joyous fans were doing the Mexican wave and Mumbai were wilting. Three deliveries later, the game changed: Pandey jabbing Abdulla to first slip.
A couple of dicey decisions sent back Amit Verma and G Satish and Karnataka had lost three for five runs. Joshi and Binny then maintained a positive approach, striking five fours in three overs after lunch before the second new ball and Mumbai's tenacity proved too much.
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