Shams Mulani bags another five-for but he is not done yet

"Forty-five would be a target which I would want to achieve," he says after putting Mumbai in the driver's seat

Himanshu Agrawal
Shams Mulani holds the red ball with pride after his 5 for 39, Mumbai vs Uttarakhand, Ranji Trophy 2021-22, 2nd quarter final, Alur, June 8, 2022

Shams Mulani holds the red ball with pride after his 5 for 39  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

You could argue that Shams Mulani would have the fielders to thank for two of his five wickets against Uttarakhand on the third day's play in Alur. But in fact, only one would ideally fall into that category.
Bowling from around the wicket to left-hand opener Kamal Singh, he bowled full and just outside off, inviting the slog sweep from the batter. Kamal found Tushar Deshpande at deep midwicket, who took a sharp, low catch despite losing balance while falling forward. That was Mulani's first wicket of the day.
His third came when Prithvi Shaw dived full stretch to his right at first slip, and snaffled Dikshanshu Negi one handed in a remarkable effort. Again, it would be Shaw who would rather be lauded.
But Mulani still deserves credit. Starting the day around the wicket to both right- and left-hand batters, he soon switched to an over-the-wicket angle when he saw nothing was working from around. Of course he had Kamal caught from around, but that was actually down to Deshpande's catch.
There was some rough outside the right-hand batter's leg stump, which Mulani's angle from over the wicket could exploit. Rough would mean extra bounce despite this being a black-soil pitch where, as Mulani points out, the ball doesn't get up as much as it does on red-soil ones.
That is exactly where he landed the ball for Negi, who went for a flick to a tossed-up ball on leg stump, but ended up getting a leading edge to Shaw at slip. So an accurate Mulani pitching it in the right area was as much responsible for the wicket as was Shaw.
And that is also how he dismissed Shivam Khurana, who became his fifth wicket of the day. Coming from over the stumps with a slip and a leg slip stationed, he landed one in the rough outside the right-hand batter's leg stump again. Khurana went for a half-hearted sweep, as the extra bounce did him in, with the ball taking the higher side of the bat to leg slip.
Mulani had conceded 23 off his first 32 balls, including two sixes and a four, but eventually finished with 5 for 39 off 12 overs. And apart from the rough, there were some cracks on the pitch too, which he had spotted, knowing well enough that they would provide some turn for him.
Mulani needed to execute, and he did that almost perfectly.
In all of his wickets other than Kamal's, there was loop, dip and turn; or at least two of them. When he had Swapnil Singh caught by Shaw at first slip, he gave the ball good flight on a full length outside off, as the ball took the outside edge while almost dying on to the batter; that, he said, was his favourite for the day.
And when Mulani cleaned up Agrim Tiwari, he fired one pretty full and once again bang on the rough on leg stump, as the tailender swung but missed, with the ball turning away to instead hit off stump.
That was the craft Mulani displayed on a two-day old pitch which suddenly seemed dead and unresponsive the moment Mumbai came out to bat in the second innings, as well as when they batted in the first. In Mumbai's second innings, Uttarakhand's left-arm spinners Mayank Mishra and Swapnil bowled a combined 34 overs, tallying 1 for 131 at nearly four runs an over.
And before Wednesday, Mulani brought with him a bagful of wickets from this Ranji season already. Before the tournament was split by the IPL, he had already pocketed four five-wicket hauls; twice in three matches, he had grabbed a ten-for. With 29 wickets, he easily sat atop the wicket-taking charts.
That lead was pushed further with five more against Uttarakhand, but he rates his performance of 6 for 107 and 5 for 60 against Goa as the one he most enjoyed among them all. Mumbai won on the final day, as Mulani also hit 50 in the second innings.
"We had to bundle them out in 60-odd overs. That was the best [among all five-fors this season]," he recalls.
With a first-innings lead already obtained and with Mumbai a mammoth 794 ahead after day three in Alur, they are almost certain of a semi-final spot. And despite 34 wickets in the Ranji Trophy thus far this season, Mulani is not done yet.
"Forty-five would be a target which I would want to achieve," he says.
Not to forget, 34 is the number for just Ranji. Mulani also won the Col CK Nayudu Under-25 tournament with Mumbai, where he picked 32 wickets - including five five-wicket hauls, and three ten-wicket match hauls - and he remembers the count too, like it were all yesterday.
In April 2021, Mulani was called up by Delhi Capitals as a short-term Covid-19 replacement for Axar Patel. He didn't get a chance then, and hasn't played in the IPL since.
But if this form and such application continues, Mulani might soon be in demand beyond Mumbai's domestic circles.

Himanshu Agrawal is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo