Baba Indrajith had to wait eight innings to bring up his first century in this edition of the Ranji Trophy. But the Tamil Nadu captain stepped up and delivered when it mattered the most for his team.
Riding on his classy 103 off 159 deliveries and Pradosh Ranjan Paul’s gritty unbeaten 107 (181b, 10x4, 1x6), the visiting side fought back against Mumbai to end the third day’s play at 380-4, with a slender lead of 43 runs.
As the Brabourne Stadium surface flattened out and Mumbai bowlers toiled hard to find breakthroughs, Indrajith forged a 131-run partnership with Paul for the fourth wicket to put the house in order.
Coming into the game following a century against Delhi, 22-year-old Paul played another gritty knock, ensuring Tamil Nadu went past Mumbai’s first innings lead.
Tamil Nadu had lost two wickets for 100, when Indrajith walked out to bat and his job was to hang in there and forge a long partnership with B Sai Sudharsan, who already looked settled.
Taking lessons from the first innings debacle, where the team folded up for 144, Indrajith had regular conversations with Sudharsan and ensured that they stitched a 50-run stand.
The southpaw, Sudharsan looked comfortable as off-spinner Tanush Kotian bowled round the wicket, bringing up his third half-century of the tournament so far.
When it looked that the third-wicket partnership would extend further, Sudharsan jumped out to drive Kotian, but ended up offering a catch at slips to Mumbai captain Ajinkya Rahane for 68 just before lunch.
And thereon, Indrajith and Paul bossed over the Mumbai bowling line-up. In a baffling decision, Mumbai introduced Shams Mulani, arguably the team’s top performer this season, in the 45th over of the innings, and making the most of it, Indrajith cut and drove fluently and all his seven boundaries were quality strikes.
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However, he got lucky at 63 when Mulani missed a difficult caught and bowled opportunity. Shrugging off the jitters, Indrajith played with determination to bring up his 14th first-class ton. However, soon after reaching the three digits, Indrajith attempted an uppish drive and ended up offering a catch to Sarfaraz Khan at covers.
Paul ensured there were no further slip-ups. While the experienced campaigner Vijay Shankar hit a few boundaries, they were involved in a 99-run unbeaten stand, which helped Tamil Nadu go past Mumbai’s first-innings lead.
Earlier, resuming the day, trailing by 275 runs, Tamil Nadu survived a scare on the second ball of the day, bowled by Tushar Deshpande, as Baba Aparajith was dropped by wicketkeeper-batter Hardik Tamore. But Aparajith’s stay at the crease did not last long as he could just add four runs to the overnight tally before Mohit Avasthi rattled his off-stump for 22, breaking the 69-run partnership for the second wicket.
The visiting side had a mountain to climb, but with Indrajith and Paul playing their roles to perfection, Tamil Nadu ended the day on a high.