Mumbai 308 for 3 (Jaffer 129*, Rahane 98) trail Tamil Nadu 501by 193 runs

For the better half of this decade Wasim Jaffer has remained the bulwark of Mumbai's batting. Today was no different for the Mumbai captain: he stood tall and calm to crack an effortless century that thwarted the challenge raised in the morning by Tamil Nadu's bowling attack. With another day's play left the game was evenly poised with Mumbai requiring another 193 runs to take the vital first-innings lead.

At the end of the day if Mumbai could afford a nervous yet confident smile, it was because Jaffer, their most experienced batsman, was still agile and fresh despite a five-hour-long vigil. Jaffer arrived at the fall of Sahil Kukreja, the second wicket in the morning. At 72 for 2 Mumbai were staring at an uphill task but they had the best pair of batsmen at crease, two men who had on numerous occasions led rearguard actions in the past.

Their first task was to thwart Tamil Nadu from making further dents after the visitors had got rid of the overnight opening combination of Praful Waghela and Kukreja, who played the wrong shots. Waghela failed to move his feet trying to drive L Balaji in front of square and offered a simple catch to Anirudh Srikkanth at point. Kukreja played away from his body against a straight delivery on the off stump from Yo Mahesh, and the faint edge went straight to the hands of the wicketkeeper K Sushil.

This was the precursor to the most engaging battle of the day, between Ajinkya Rahane and the 16-year-old left-arm spinner Aushik Srinivas, who taunte and tormented the restless batsman with his loop and flight. Rahane is technically straight and likes to take charge immediately to gain the upper hand against the bowler. Having rolled his wrists to flick Balaji for his first four, Rahane steadily grew confident. Srinivas, who comes to the bowling crease with a lovely action full of rituals, understood his opponent's attacking psyche, and so pulled his length a few inches back and gave the ball the right amount of loop to put a question in the batsman's mind.

Thus Rahane became indecisive. On 12 he stepped out and was beaten in the air, but Sushil fumbled collecting the ball and missed an easy stumping opportunity. Srinivas stood there without any emotions.

In the second over after lunch Rahane tried to defend off the front foot but the ball bounced, surprised him, and took the leading edge. However, Murali Vijay at first slip failed to latch on. Rahane was on 22, and that was a turning point. "The left-armer was good and we had to be cautious," he admitted after the day's play.

Jaffer had meanwhile taken charge at the other end. He had started with his trademark wristy flicks against Yo Mahesh, the second of which brought up Mumbai's 100. Yo Mahesh committed the mistake of pitching on a driving length in his next over which Jaffer punched straight past mid-on's left side for another four.

He even neutered the danger of Srinivas. When the bowler challenged him with a flighted delivery, Jaffer just lunged forward to firmly push the ball past the huge divide between cover and mid-off for another four. By now Rahane had gained in confidence. As soon as Srinivas attacked with another flighted delivery he jumped out to hit it over the bowler's head for his first six. Srinivas was tired and replaced by Vijay with Abhinav Mukund, but Jaffer hit consecutive fours off the first two ball. Rahane ended the over with a straight drive that brought him his half-century.

When Srinivas was brought from the opposite end Jaffer vaulted out of his crease to hit consecutive straight sixes off the first two balls, the first of which got him past the fifty mark. Here onwards both batsmen adopted a less attacking mode. Between overs 50 and 75 Rahane did not hit one boundary. He then raced into the nineties with five fours spread over five overs a half hour into the final session.

After his double century, against Hyderabad in the previous game, Rahane looked set for another century when he faced Srinivas on 98. Srinivas once again resorted to his trusted weapon - flight. Rahane plunged forward to defend but the ball spun and took a faint edge on its way to the wicketkeeper. For one man it was heart rendering, for the other it was sheer jubilation.

But Jaffer remained unaffected and brought up a record 38th Ranji hundred with a single. Just like S Badrinath had made the difference for Tamil Nadu on the first two days, Mumbai's hopes now rest on Jaffer. He has been their talisman for long and the task is not beyond his reach.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo