On the eve of its crucial Ranji Trophy fixture against Tamil Nadu, Mumbai captain Ajinkya Rahane had a discussion with his team-mates on approaching a game session by session.
At the Brabourne Stadium on Tuesday, Tushar Deshpande took his captain’s advice seriously and dominated the first session with a five-for (5 for 37) as Mumbai restricted Tamil Nadu to 144 in the first innings.
Though the visiting side put up a strong fight in the post-tea session with Aswin Crist’s short-pitched deliveries claiming the wickets of captain Rahane and Hardik Tamore in quick succession, Sarfaraz Khan remained unbeaten on 46 to guide Mumbai to 183-6 at stumps on Day One, with a slender lead of 39.
On a surface that aided the seamers, Mumbai won the toss and put Tamil Nadu in to bat - a decision that proved effective as Deshpande and Mohit Avasthi made the most of the conditions. Avasthi struck on the fourth delivery of his first over as Sai Sudarshan was caught behind by Tamore on a duck. Minutes later, a miscommunication between N. Jagadeesan and Sai Kishore led to the latter being run out, to leave Tamil Nadu reeling at 5 for two.
The onus was on Jagadeesan and Baba Aparajith, but Deshpande rattled the latter’s middle-stump as the touring side lost its top-three wickets for 22 runs inside the first seven overs.
However, taking lessons from the defeat against Saurashtra in its previous game, Mumbai bowlers did not let complacency creep in. Deshpande claimed his third wicket as Jagadeesan edged to second slip, offering a rather easy catch for Prithvi Shaw for just 23 runs.
While Deshpande held fort at one end, Shams Mulani (3 for 33), quite clearly Mumbai’s bowling hero this season, cleaned up Vijay Shankar for 18 to end the 22-run stand between him and Pradosh Ranjan Paul.
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With Mulani and Deshpande tightening the noose, Tamil Nadu wouldn’t have been able to cross the 100-run mark had Paul not stepped up with a brave innings of 55 off 75 deliveries. Coming in at a time when his team needed some stability, Paul started aggressively, with a flurry of boundaries, but with no support from the other end, his efforts went in vain as Tamil Nadu innings folded shortly after lunch.
Mumbai had a jittery start as debutant H Trilok Nag (2-58) dismissed Yashasvi Jaiswal and Arman Jaffer inside the first four overs. Coming in as a replacement for Sandeep Warrier, who’s down with fever, Nag made his presence felt and both his dismissals were caught behind - by the substitute Kavin Ravi, who chipped in for regular stumper Jagadeesan, who was out of the field for a while.
But Mumbai slowly returned into the game with a 67-run stand between captain Rahane and Shaw. With both the batters playing aggressively, the home team managed to put the pressure back on Tamil Nadu before Shaw was played on by a Crist delivery for 35 off 33 deliveries. And Rahane, who looked in perfect shape, having hit a couple of straight drives to the boundary in his 43-ball-42 knock, fell shortly after tea. Attempting a cut off Crist, Rahane ended up offering a catch to Trilok Nag at deep point. A while later, adding to Mumbai’s woes, another short-pitched delivery by Crist saw Tamore being caught by Baba Indrajith at square leg.
Five wickets down for 113, things looked tricky, but keeping his cool, the seasoned Sarfaraz forged a crucial 48-run stand with Mulani to help the host earn a slender lead.
Aware that a slip-up here would cost the team dearly, Sarfaraz took his time, while allowing Mulani to hit a couple of boundaries.
Had it not been for this partnership, things could have been difficult for Mumbai, and just when it looked that Tamil Nadu bowlers were struggling to find a breakthrough, Sai Kishore trapped Mulani leg before. But with Sarfaraz standing his ground, Mumbai ended the day without further trouble.