The match was drifting with an eerie calm towards a sure loss for Mumbai,like a man sleepwalking quietly to the edge of the cliff. The two left-arm spinners Iqbal Abdulla and Vishal Dabholkar bowling in tandem were restrictive but not spectacular. Gujarat were 136 for 4 at that stage and needed 39 runs more to make the Ranji Trophy quarter-finals. Its in breaking such a lull that Mumbai captain Wasim Jaffer suddenly decided to bring on off-spinner Suryakumar Yadav.
Chasing 175,Gujarat had resumed at their overnight 67 for 3 and lost Bhargav Merai in the 11th over of the final day after a fourth-wicket stand of 76 runs. Despite Dabholkar claiming the middle-order batsman,the home team had looked in total control of the proceedings. The route to the run-chase had looked smooth for Gujarat till then as Akshar Patel was batting steadily having scored a half-century and had support of veteran Venugopal Rao from the other-end,as the duo rotated the strike comfortably.
At this juncture,Yadav came round the wicket and bowled on the rough,hoping the ball would turn to leg. Patel went for a sweep,but however to his surprise,the ball stopped a bit leaving his leg-stump shattered. At 135 for 5 now,Gujarat still needed 39 runs more to win,but barely did they know that their next five wickets would add a mere 12 runs to the total. Patel and Rao had managed a 31-runs stand for the fifth wicket but somehow Gujarat choked.
At the Sardar Vallabhai Patel Stadium,Mumbai clinched a thriller with left-arm spinners Iqbal Abdulla finishing with five wickets (11-wicket-match haul) while Dabholkar took four to see Gujarat’s domestic season ending with a 27-run defeat to the defending champions. Abdulla,who had taken two wickets overnight,claimed crucial scalps of Manpreet Juneja for a duck and sent back Rao in quick succession.
Later,he had Chirag Gandhi pinned to the back-foot,trapping him leg-before for his fifth wicket. It was Abdullas day out in Valsad.
His figures of 5 for 44 and 6 for 42 and 30 and 38 runs had in fact been the defining difference in the low-scoring game for Mumbai.
For Gujarat the defeat must have felt painful after they came into this game with eight batsmen.
It was their best chance to beat the champions and even their captain Parthiv Patel was confident and had said they could beat this Mumbai team.
But things had suddenly changed in Mumbais favour,post Akshar Patels 66,which had ten boundaries in it. Gujarat would’ve never imagined those 39 runs would turn out to be such a steep challenge. Despite Gujarat inching steadily towards the target,Mumbai never showed panic on the field. They knew their chances would come and Jaffer made sure he rotated his bowlers cannily.
No fight left
Parthiv said his side deserved the verdict because despite having a long batting line-up Gujarat never fought back. We had a strong batting force but the way we played later,Mumbai deserved to win. The pitch was not that easy but the way Akshar and Merai were batting we thought we would get there, Parthiv said.
Gujarat finished fourth with Karnataka and Punjab securing the other knockout berths. Mumbai are placed third with 29 points and they became the last team to qualify from Group A.
The good news is Mumbai will see Zaheer Khan back as a captain but their two international batsmen Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane might not turn up as the Indian team is scheduled to fly to New Zealand on January 11.
Brief Scores: Mumbai: 154 & 273 beat Gujarat: 253 & 147 all out in 56 ovs (A Patel 65,B Merai 36; I Abdulla 5/44)
Points: Mumbai 6,Gujarat 0.