Ranji Trophy: Mumbai takes charge against Tamil Nadu

At the end of the third day’s play, Mumbai was bowled out for 406 in its first innings, with a hefty lead of 101 runs. With just two days remaining on a track that’s still tailormade for batting, Tamil Nadu will have to stage a miraculous comeback if it wants to board the plane for Indore.

Aditya Tare's (83) 121-run association with Abhishek Nayar helped Mumbai move past TN’s first innings total.   -  R. V. Moorthy

A combination of flat deck, sensible batting, lower-order resistance and inexplicable tactics in the field by Tamil Nadu meant Mumbai had a foot in the Ranji Trophy final. At the end of the third day’s play, Mumbai was bowled out for 406 in its first innings, with a hefty lead of 101 runs.

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With just two days remaining on a track that’s still tailor-made for batting, Tamil Nadu will have to stage a miraculous comeback if it wants to board the plane for Indore.

When Vijay Shankar lured Shreyas Iyer into nicking one to Dinesh Karthik behind the stumps in the fourth over, Mumbai was in a bit of a predicament. At 190 for five, the first objective of overhauling Tamil Nadu’s first innings total of 305 looked some distance away. But captain Aditya Tare and veteran all-rounder Abhishek Nayar, the two most sensible heads in the Mumbai batting line-up, hardly looked in trouble.

In such a scenario, most fielding captains would have pounced on the new ball the moment it was available. However, Abhinav Mukund chose not to, instead letting his spin duo of R. Aushik Srinivas and B. Aparajith bowl extended spells. That made matters easier for Mumbai as Tare and Nayar milked the bowling with risk-free cricket.

By the time Abhinav opted for the new ball — with just a solitary over remaining before he would have been compelled to take it after the 100th over, as per the tournament playing conditions — Mumbai had cruised to 289.

While T. Natarajan, despite issues with overstepping, ran in hard with the new ball, Mukund stuck to Aparajith with the hard ball. The move would have paid off right away, but for the offie’s twin, Indrajith, dropping a sharp chance in the slips off Nayar’s edge.

Not long afterwards, Aparajith was fortunate in trapping Nayar in front with one that kept very low.

By then, however, Nayar and Tare’s 121-run association had taken Mumbai past TN’s total. Even after Tare failed to convert his fifth fifty of the season into a hundred with a false stroke that gave the left-arm pacer Natarajan a deserving wicket, Tamil Nadu persisted with defensive fields.

That helped Balwinder Singh Sandhu Jr. and Shardul Thakur — far from being referred to as tailenders — an opportunity to build on the lead. While Sandhu poked at one from Shankar that moved away after tea, Thakur not only ensured Mumbai played the day out but also raised a well-paced fifty before being bowled by Srinivas off what turned out to be the last ball of the day.