Tamil Nadu captain Abhinav Mukund attributed his team's six-wicket defeat to Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy semi-final to the batting collapse in the first innings that saw them slump from 178 for 2 to 305 all out. It was a total that was deemed insufficient after Tamil Nadu won the toss on a good batting track and they were always going to play catchup after Mumbai secured a 101-run lead in response.
"We should have scored 40-50 runs more," Abhinav said after the match. "Someone should have had the maturity to take the innings through after DK's [Dinesh Karthik's] dismissal in the first innings. Maybe, if we had scored 350-360, they would have been under a lot of pressure, considering that they lost most of their top-order early. They were 180 for 4 and we let them build on. I thought that's where we lost the game as their lower order showed more maturity than ours did."
Abhinav was comfortable with the declaration late on Wednesday to set Mumbai a target of 251, and said it was done with the intention of having a crack at the openers in the evening. He conceded, however, he didn't foresee the 17-year-old Prithvi Shaw taking the game away from Tamil Nadu. "He played quite fearless cricket. It was a brilliant innings," he said. "He played some rash shots too, but got away with. But he lived by his sword and credit to him."
At the end of the fourth day, B Indrajith had predicted that the spinners would come into play on a final-day pitch that had a few cracks and rough patches. Abhinav felt the pitch didn't deteriorate as much as they expected.
"It was not a minefield and was still a good batting pitch," he said. "I thought hardly any balls [kept low] yesterday. Today there were about 10 or 12 balls that I counted, but none of them hit the stumps. We had to take a chance and give them a score that was iffy. We didn't have a choice as they had a 100-run lead. If we had taken two or three wickets they would have been under pressure."
Abhinav also defended the decision to delay the introduction of Vijay Shankar and left-arm seamer T Natarajan in Mumbai's chase. Shankar wasn't introduced until the 18th over, while Natarajan was handed the ball for the last over before lunch. "They [Aswin Crist and K Vignesh] have been my two best bowlers this season. I wanted to back them," he said. "Aswin Crist might look like he is not going to pick up wickets but suddenly he comes and picks up two for you.
"That's how he has been throughout the season. If you had seen Karnataka match, the first spell he bowled was like s**t. He came back the second spell and took six wickets. I trust him for that. I wanted to give one burst in the morning and see how it goes."
Apart from the three fast bowlers, who have contributed 96 wickets, Abhinav saw positives in how batsmen like Kaushik Gandhi and Indrajith have stepped up. "I don't set numerical targets for myself or the team. I don't know whether we overachieved or underachieved," he said. "But all I can say is we found replacements for R Prasanna and L Balaji, and hopefully we will find one for M Vijay.
"We have been having trouble with the opening slot. Hopefully, Ganga Sridhar Raju can do the job. Overall, it's been a satisfying season with Kaushik Gandhi and Indrajith taking the mantle. We had six [four] batsmen scoring 600 runs and two bowlers taking 30-plus wickets. So I can keep naming the pluses. But we have to go further into the tournament. That's why I am disappointed today. I genuinely thought this was the team who could do it."
He said there were a number of things his team could learn from Mumbai, not least the ability to collectively apply pressure on the opposition. "It's really important to learn the small things. Like when a partnership is going, the entire team slows things down, the entire team looks to change the ball, or tries to do something different," he said.
"When a bowler is bowling well, they slow things down as a batting unit; they call for gloves before the end of the session. These are the things you only learn through experience, you can't teach anyone these things. Some of these things come naturally to them [Mumbai], credit to them for it, but hopefully some of these [Tamil Nadu] boys have watched it and learnt from it.
"These are the things I appreciate, but at the same time these are the things that can be learnt pretty easily. Hopefully, we will take back these sort of things as learnings and come back as a stronger unit next year."