At 3am on the morning of the final, Abhishek Nayar made a frantic call to the team physio. He hadn't slept a wink. Severe chest congestion and fever pushed him to the edge. He was injected with two doses of antibiotics to bring the fever and shivering down. At 5.30am, he was back in bed, trying to rest before the match. Finally, he gave up and joined his team on the bus as if everything was normal. It wasn't until after play on the opening day that his team-mates found out he was running on reserves.

Just the previous day, he had batted in the nets for two hours across three different stints. Then he bowled for half hour. He topped it off with a running session. Nayar says he would have it no other way, because these were "part of his pre-match preparations", which he religiously follows, not because he should do it but because he has to set an example for the younger players to emulate.

He had had an impressive run to the final; he picked up nine wickets in the quarter-final against Hyderabad, made a vital half-century that helped Mumbai take a lead and set themselves up for a win in the semi-final over Tamil Nadu. In the first innings of the final, he rallied with the tail to make a fighting 35 that helped Mumbai post 228. Then, he bowled three spells of seven, ten and seven overs. These were efforts of a man his captain, Aditya Tare, described as a "genius who will give everything for the team".

It's this process that has earned him the title of the side's 'crisis man' over the years. It was this pre-match process, he said, that gave him the power and strength that he drew to make a fighting second-innings 91 to keep Mumbai's hopes of a 42nd Ranji Trophy alive going into the final day.

It wasn't just about the runs, but how he went about making them that stood out. He added 85 with the last two wickets, when at one stage there was a possibility of Gujarat chasing around 230. "I know I need to bat with the tail, so my personal preparation is what matters," he said. "No matter what you talk, it's how you prepare on the field, how you prepare for practice sessions, how you prepare mentally before a game.

"After my surgery [in 2014], I have been thinking of the tough situations I may have to overcome. I wasn't practising but I was preparing myself mentally to be in a situation where I may not be getting runs and how you prepare for it. I kept preparing myself for the worst and when you do that, the best comes out."

On Friday, Mumbai were aiming to defend "at least 300", which didn't look possible when the eighth wicket fell with Mumbai 226 ahead. It needed a special effort and Nayar didn't blink. "The plan was to go big after tea. I think we have not brought out our A game in that aspect," he said. "Had we played smarter, we could have got lot more than what we did in the end. But from that situation, everyone has done well to help the team reach where we are now.

"Vishal [Dabholkar] and I have had couple of such partnerships earlier also and I hold him in high regards. I have batted with the tail for the past two seasons now. I knew that Vishal could bat and in the first innings I got him run-out. Otherwise we could have added more in the first innings. This time I made a conscious effort to take most of the strike and give him one or two balls, initially, to help him get the confidence. Once he got the confidence, we were discussing which bowler he was comfortable facing. I was giving him strike to only that bowler. Having someone fight it out with you gives you the motivation to take your team through."

During the partnership, Nayar also had to be mindful of Gujarat's defensive tactics in the second session. The only man inside the ring was a wide slip fielder; the rest were patrolling boundaries just to get Nayar off strike. The second session fetched just 67 runs in 30 overs. When they came out for the final session, Gujarat were desperately trying to slow the game down - they were 14 overs short at stumps when Mumbai's innings ended.

Nayar smashed five sixes and scored 46 quick runs after tea before becoming the last man to fall. Even in pain, there was no question of simply trying to hit out, according to him. His method, he revealed later, was about which bowlers to target. "It was more about the situation. I calculate and think about which bowler I should take a chance against," he said. "You need to understand when the bowler is going to bowl a good ball. A bowler will not ball six effort balls.

"There will be one or two balls where he will try and get you out. I wait for those balls. I was trying to understand what my areas were and I was very calm today. I was a bit brash in the first innings and that is normally not me. So I wanted to make it count today since it was an important game for us."

Over the course of the last four seasons, Nayar has taken over the mantle of a mentor, who sets plans in place for the youngsters to emulate. And if they are not able to do so, he takes it upon himself to do the job. It comes from the experience of a 33-year-old, who is not after only an India call-up.

"At No. 7, my role in this team is to absorb pressure and I have to accept it, because I'm the senior-most player," Nayar said. "That is what I always try to do. I believe whenever a challenge is thrown at you, you have to accept it and only then can you try and give your best. It's the love for the game that keeps me going. I love a challenge, I love this team. Not always do you play to get something. Sometimes you just do it because you enjoy it and love it."

Nayar swears by his favourite line from the Rocky series: "It ain't over till it's over." On Friday, he actually demonstrated what that meant but he will have to show some more of that on Saturday.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo