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Shams Mulani aces the left-arm spinner vs left-hand batter challenge

Last season's highest wicket-taker is focused on doing well year after year so that he is not called a one-season wonder

Vishal Dikshit
Vishal Dikshit
Shams Mulani was the highest wicket-taker in last season's Ranji Trophy  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Shams Mulani was the highest wicket-taker in last season's Ranji Trophy  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

An eighth five-wicket haul in just 11 first-class matches sounds like a great feat but it doesn't say anything new about Mumbai left-arm spinner Shams Mulani's extended purple patch. Delve a little deeper though and you realise he was in uncharted territory, and still he excelled.
Mulani was the leading wicket-taker in last season's Ranji Trophy by some distance, and what had worked in his favour was getting plenty of chances to bowl to right-hand batters. Of his 45 wickets last season, 32 (71%) were of right-hand batters, and all eight of his five-wicket hauls had come outside Mumbai.
But against Hyderabad in the second round of this Ranji season, Mulani had to bowl to as many as seven left-hand batters and he had gone four innings without a five-for, his first such streak since February 2020. The pitch at the BKC ground in Mumbai wasn't a turner per se. It was slow but, thanks to a red soil base that ensured good bounce, it was actually pretty good for batting. A left-arm spinner had to be creative here to succeed against left-hand batters.
In the first innings, after Mumbai had amassed 651 for 6, Mulani not only dismissed the only two right-hand batters in the Hyderabad line-up but also three of the five left-hand batters in their top seven to claim his best innings figures of 7 for 94 and his first five-for in Mumbai.
In Hyderabad's second innings when they were asked to follow-on after being bowled out for 214 on the third day, Mulani opened the bowling but didn't get any success for the first hour and a half as openers Tanmay Agarwal and Akshath Reddy put on a fifty stand. Mumbai's offspinner Tanush Kotian then came on as first-change and trapped Agarwal lbw to give the hosts an opening.
Mulani first removed right-hand batter Mickil Jaiswal by trapping him lbw from around the wicket and then used the rough outside off - that was created by the bowlers from the other end - against left-hand batters and started varying his pace. He snared three left-hand batters and finished with 4 for 82 as Kotian bagged a five-for and Mumbai wrapped up an innings-and-217-run win inside three days.
"I've taken a seven-for earlier too, against Saurashtra, but I gave less runs in this so economically it was better," Mulani said with glee after the match.
"As they had seven lefties I could use the rough which we normally use in a multi-day game. On the red soil we get a bit of bounce as well. That's what me and Tanush were aiming [for] because the bowlers' [foot] marks were there. We were trying to use the rough areas to our advantage.
"It's my third proper Ranji season and I want to pick wickets by bowling on different areas and conditions."
Top-wicket taker last season, averaging 18.57 after two games in this season and with 12 half-centuries to his name, Mulani is an allrounder in the Ravindra Jadeja mould. His top first-class score of 97 off 115 balls came at No. 5 in the Duleep Trophy quarter-final earlier this year. From there, he went on to take 4 for 51 in the final against South Zone to help West Zone lift the title. With such consistent success usually comes an India A call-up but Mulani is not looking too far ahead and wants to focus on picking up wickets year after year so that he is not called a one-season wonder.
"The selectors in Mumbai have told me 'keep doing your work, you're very close [to an India A call-up]. It's not like it's very far from you. You're just there and thereabouts. Don't give them any [reason to] say that he's not picking up wickets, he just did that last year. Just try to continue what you're doing.'
"The wickets in Mumbai are going to help spinners as well. We know that. I look forward to games and try to pick up as many wickets as I can. I can't say I want to be there, I am going to play for India A or [look far] ahead, but I'll just follow my processes. And do what needs to be done."
For now, Mulani is reveling in the fact that he bagged a five-for in the first game at home this season and that his father could watch it in the flesh.

Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo