On the eve of the game, a couple of Mumbai batsmen approached the curator, Sudhir Naik. It had been cloudy for a few days and Naik had not taken the risk of watering the track - not a single water drop fell on the surface for two days prior to the start. Naik recalls the batsmen being a touch apprehensive. Reason? Anil Kumble. They feared that the dry wicket might break up early and Kumble would harass them on a variable track. Naik had simply pointed to the elements and said he cannot do anything to help them.
Their nervousness would have increased after watching their team-mate Ramesh Powar, tease the opposition on the opening day. The ball gripped the surface, spun and bounced. Even the young Iqbal Abdulla, albeit not getting big turn, got it to bounce. At times the 'keeper had to gather deliveries from in front of his face.
Cut to the second day. The sun was beating down hard when Kumble brought himself on in the 13th over of the innings. His first act was to set his field precisely. He even walked to short cover, made a mark on the ground with his feet and asked his fielder to stand on that spot.
With a short leg and a silly point in place, he floated his first few deliveries but there was no sign of any bite off the pitch. Sahil Kukreja and Wasim Jaffer began to breathe easy and started to drive him fluently. After five overs of fruitless toil, where he was driven and cut, Kumble took himself off the attack and gave his partner Sunil Joshi a go. Joshi started off slowly before running into a better rhythm in the post-lunch session.
And yet, neither Joshi, to a lesser extent, and Kumble were getting the same purchase off the track as Powar. Whatever moisture and dampness the pitch held on the first day was sucked-up by the harsh sun and the wicket could only offer slow turn today.
Naik felt that the pitch demanded the spinner to flight the ball and give it lots of revolutions to purchase turn. "Powar did, the Karnataka spinners didn't do it consistently enough and as a result Mumbai have a healthy lead," says Naik.
The pitch will deteriorate further and variable bounce should enter the picture. So will Kumble, but for that, the Karnataka batsmen need to get their act together.
Joshi wished his batsmen had put more runs on the board. "If we had more runs, the situation would have been so different. The pitch had become slower; I never thought it would break up completely, as the Wankhede wicket is usually hard and holds up. And they batted well."
The Karnataka batsmen were overcautious in the first innings, scoring only at 2.17 runs per over. At the end of the first day, Pravin Amre, Mumbai's coach, had hoped his batsmen wouldn't commit the same mistake. "I want them to bat positively, not slog of course but punish the loose deliveries and even if we score one run more than them [Karnataka] per over, the job would be done." Mumbai ended up scoring at 3.55 runs per hour and that was the difference between the two sides.
Every time Kumble erred on length or width, the batsmen took full toll. Abhishek Nayar went one step further as he took the attack to Kumble and forced him to commit mistakes in line and length. He struck three successive boundaries of Kumble: two were swung over the leg side field before he cut the third as Kumble tried to correct his length but ended up bowling short.
Prashant Naik, 21, the right-hand batsman making his Ranji debut, hit an assured 78 to lift Mumbai out of trouble after they had lost five quick wickets in the second session. Naik, who was run out at the fag end of the play, had been working with Amre to tackle the threat of Kumble. He was advised to stretch well forward, not plonk his left foot across and always look to play straight. "I took care to do that. It was a great experience playing a bowler like Kumble. Joshi got the ball to bounce but since it was turning slow I was confident of playing them well," Prashant said.
Naik drove Kumble through the covers, past mid-off and when Kumble went around the wickets looking for the rough outside leg stump, he swept him fine. Kumble had trapped Amol Muzumdar when he tried to play across the line, but had Naik learnt from that and took care to play in the V. Since Kumble didn't get lift or pace off the track, Naik prospered. So did Mumbai.