They arrived to play a knockout match without two star batsmen, a key allrounder and two premier fast bowlers but in the end, Mumbai found someone to do the job, as they have throughout the season. Not only were Mumbai missing Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Abhishek Nayar, their remaining two important batsmen, Wasim Jaffer and Suryakumar Yadav, also failed in the quarter-final. They were 60 for 5 in pursuit of 192 on a pitch that was still doing something on the second morning.
But they found a savior in Kaustubh Pawar, who blunted the MP fast bowlers for eight hours in his debut first-class season. His 160 off 328 deliveries, and later, Ankeet Chavan's century, were instrumental in building a big lead for Mumbai. Jaffer was proud of having made the semi-final with a team missing so many first-choice players but also felt that the toss had an important role to play. Mumbai were able to make first use of a fresh wicket to dismiss MP cheaply after which the pitch eased out for the remainder of the game.
Jaffer rated Pawar's effort as one of the best he had seen in a knockout match. "Pawar's innings was tremendous, especially for someone playing in his debut season. We were in trouble at the end of the first day having lost five wickets for 60," Jaffer said. "But to take a massive lead of 242 from that position is a big achievement. If you look at the side we have, it is creditable that we have come so far [in the tournament]."
Mukesh Sahni, the MP coach, said his batsmen had a lot to learn from Pawar's unwavering patience and his ability to put away the risky strokes.
Jaffer also praised Chavan, saying that he had performed whenever he had been given the opportunity. Chavan made his maiden first-class hundred from No. 9, showing the depth in the Mumbai batting line-up. Sulakshan Kulkarni, the Mumbai coach, said Chavan played like a specialist batsman. "I do not treat him as a tail-ender. If you see, he was playing so straight and was comfortable against both pace and spin." Chavan's act has relegated a steady performer like Iqbal Abdulla to the sidelines for now but Kulkarni said that competition was always healthy for a side.
Whether they are full-strength or not, Mumbai are always expected to win the Ranji Trophy. Jaffer said that would always be the case and Mumbai would have to try hard with whatever players were available. "We cannot sit back and lament that we are missing so many players. The expectations will always be there. It is up to us to try our best with the squad we have."
The way his fringe players have been delivering, Jaffer will not be overly worried ahead of the semi-final against heavyweights Tamil Nadu.