Saturday was a thoroughly dispiriting day for Saurashtra. After all the excitement about their first final since Independence, their batting crumbled against a good but unexceptional bowling performance from Mumbai in the first session.
There wasn't much help for the spinners, quick bowler Shardul Thakur's figures of 12-2-31-0 hide how regularly he sprayed the ball wide of the stumps, while Ajit Agarkar took the new ball but bowled only three overs in the first hour. Only Dhawal Kulkarni posed a consistent threat, keeping the batsmen guessing around the off stump and choking the runs. Several wickets went down to poor strokes: Shitanshu Kotak played a loose shot off the backfoot, Jaydev Shah tucked a harmless delivery straight to midwicket and later, when much of the damage was already done, Kamlesh Makvana slapped a wide ball to backward point.
What made it worse for Saurashtra was that bowling is generally considered to be Mumbai's weaker department, with the hosts missing the experience of Zaheer Khan. Also, Saurashtra's success this season has been based more on their spinners than the quicks and the Wankhede pitch is unlikely to offer much for the slow bowlers this early in the match.
Just one day into the game and Mumbai already look to be certainties for the title. Saurashtra captain Jaydev Shah didn't share that view, though. "Of course, why not?" he said emphatically, when asked whether he had the resources for a fightback. "Today you can see they were also getting beaten very easily. It is cricket, they can get out for 100 or 200, though 200-250 would have been a better score [from us]."
Shah denied that his team was overawed by the occasion and said the toss played a crucial role. "First the pitch was damp, then it dried up, so the toss makes a difference. I have never seen Bombay, who have such a huge batting line-up, decide to bowl. They would not go and bowl, [unless] there is something in the wicket."
In the second session, with the pitch drying up, Aarpit Vasavada and Makvana seemed at ease in the middle, putting up Saurashtra's only significant partnership of the innings and perhaps pointing to better batting conditions on the second day. Shah disagreed. "It was not easy to score runs. We gave their batsmen eight overs and they just scored about 10-12 runs, so it was difficult for them, too."
For Saurashtra to compete, they will need someone to bowl like Kulkarni did. He cut out the loose deliveries, and generally probed around off, getting the odd one to kick up and others to snake around. It helped him that he got a wicket in his first over itself, when Sagar Jogiyani nicked the ball to slip. "I was confident, got five wickets before this game, so I just carried it forward," Kulkarni said. "I would have felt great if I had got that five-for [again]. I was bowling well throughout the season, the only thing missing was the wickets."
Like Kulkarni, Mumbai, too, can be pleased with their first day's efforts. And unless Saurashtra manage to pull off a dramatic turnaround, the whispers around their batting thriving only on the notoriously flat pitches of Rajkot will only get louder.