These have been a frustrating few weeks for Iqbal Abdulla. Despite some decent performances under his belt,like his four-wicket haul against Punjab,the selectors continued to give the left-arm spinner a cold shoulder repeatedly pointing out he wasnt up to the mark. However,with Mumbai playing at Gujarat and under pressure to win and qualify for the knockout stages,the selectors persisted with the tried-and-tested spinner. Perhaps,his past performance at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium here worked for him. His last five-wicket haul had come at this venue against the same opposition back in 2008.
On Tuesday,Abdulla repaid the selectors faith and justified his selection by picking up six wickets in the do-or-die game,keeping Mumbais hopes of making the quarter-finals alive. Defending a meagre total of 154,Abdullas fine spell marginally helped apply the skid-breaks on Gujarat and stop them from running away with the game as they notched up 253,a lead of 99. At stumps on Day Two,the visitors were 76 for four,still trailing by 23 runs,and staring at the steepest challenge of the season.
But earlier on Tuesday,realising they needed quick wickets to stand any chance of making a comeback,Mumbai began on a bright note with medium-pacer Shardul Thakur removing Parthiv Patel soon after play began. Then,it was the time for Abdulla show.
Ever since Mumbai found another left-arm spinner in Vishal Dabholkar last season,Abdullas spot in the starting XI has been uncertain. Experts suggested he was more suited to the T20 format as he lacked variations and did not have a traditional spin bowlers approach.
However,he proved them wrong on Tuesday. He kept up the pressure from one end and looked the only bowler who could run through Gujarats line-up. Abdulla added to his overnight tally by trapping opener Samit Gohel in front of stumps. Manprit Juneja,who himself is going through a rough patch,started well but was caught at slips by Wasim Jaffer off Abdulla. The left-armer didnt have much trouble finishing off Gujarats tail-enders Chirag Gandhi,Rakesh Dhruv and Ishwar Choudhary.
However,Jaffer was guilty of not utilising Abdulla smartly and its an error in judgement that could cost Mumbai dearly. Four overs after he got two wickets in quick succession,the Mumbai skipper brought on Dabholkar and leg-spinner Pravin Tambe from two ends. The duo did not look effective and Aakar Patel and Venugopal Rao sailed comfortably. The duo played out 14 overs between them and Mumbai had to look for a second new ball for a breakthrough. Thakur,re-introduced into the attack,was successful in removing Patel,after which Abdulla cleaned up the tail.
Trailing Gujarat by 99 runs,Mumbai began their second innings in similar fashion to the first. Their top order continued to disappoint,this time failing to deal with young Gujarat pacer Jasprit Bumrah. He scalped Kaustubh Pawar and Aditya Tare in a space of two overs and later sent Jaffer packing,thus putting his side in a great position to go for an outright win.
As Mumbai look for a big partnership on the penultimate day to give themselves a chance to win,all eyes will be on young Abdulla to deliver once again. This time with a bat.
Brief scores: Mumbai 154 & 76/4 (S Yadav 34,J Bumrah 3/12); Gujarat 253 (S Gohel 58,V Rao 39,I Abdulla 6/42)