Ranji Trophy: Mumbai enters 45th final

With Madhya Pradesh on 361 for 5 on the final day, chasing an unrealistic 571, the semifinal was declared a draw. Mumbai qualified to the final, to face Saurashtra, on first-innings lead.

Naman Ojha followed up his 79 in the first innings with a century in the second.   -  V. Ganesan

The contest between Mumbai and Madhya Pradesh in Tangi ended on a farcical note on the final day, with part-timers bowling and easy runs on offer in Madhya Pradesh’s chase of an unrealistic target of 571. There was hardly any intensity on view with Mumbai already ensuring a spot in the final.

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Yet, this being the semi-final of the Ranji Trophy, one would have liked more effort from Mumbai in its bid for an outright win. After lunch, though, the bowlers simply appeared to be going through the motions. Madhya Pradesh was 361 for five when both teams decided to shake hands and settle for a draw at the DRIEMS ground here on Wednesday.

Mumbai, through to the summit clash on first innings lead, will now take on Saurashtra for the title in Pune from February 23. Mumbai skipper Aditya Tare was adjudged Man of the Match for his crucial knocks of 68 and 109.

There was some cheer for Madhya Pradesh on the final day, with wicket-keeper batsman Naman Ojha (113, 185b, 13x4, 1x6) and the left-handed Harpreet Singh (105, 189b, 11x4, 1x6) getting past the three-figure mark.

Some of Ojha’s driving through covers was majestic. Swing bowler Balwinder Singh Sandhu was first driven and then lofted over covers for boundaries. Ojha also cut with panache.

Harpreet has a tendency to play away from his body but is a good striker of the ball once in. He smoked paceman Badre Alam through the off-side field and carted left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdullah over long-on for the maximum.

Weak spin bowling

The duo added 159 in 269 balls for the fourth wicket, before Ojha fell nicking Suryakumar Yadav’s occasional off-spin down leg side.

Mumbai made a push for win in the morning when its pacemen were on.

Opener Aditya Shrivatsava (68, 148b, 10x4), reprieved by ‘keeper Tare off Abhishek Nayar, was eventually caught behind off an Alam away seamer. As the afternoon arrived, Mumbai took its foot off the pedal.

This phase of play also showed the weakest aspect of this Mumbai team – its spin bowling.

The sole specialist spinner in the side, Abdullah, was nothing more than ordinary, bowling without spin, flight or imagination.

Truth to tell, Mumbai’s spin bowling stock is pretty thin at the moment with its primary left-arm spinner Vishal Dabholkar’s confidence down after his action came under the scanner. And the off-spinning options appear limited.

Leggie Pravin Tambe, arguably, is the best spinner in Mumbai now, and he is 44.

The pitch slowed down as the match progressed. And with the sun beating down relentlessly, the grass on the wicket seemed increasingly worn out.

While a green and fresh wicket encouraged pacemen on the first three days, subsequently, the dead grass on the surface actually helped the batsmen by preventing the pitch from breaking up. After the game, Tare said, “We first put up the runs on a green pitch, and then the pacemen took wickets when it mattered to get us the lead. It was a team effort.”

Madhya Pradesh coach Harvinder Singh Sodhi said, “It was a good experience for the boys since the team was in the semifinal after a long time. They will also realise that if they had done certain things better, which they are capable of, they could have beaten this Mumbai team.”