You can’t escape the legends of Indian cricket at the spacious Holkar Stadium. The stands of the northern enclosure are named after the indispensables of modern and bygone eras, from Vijay Hazare to Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev to Anil Kumble, their names instilled on blue plates with white ink nailed onto the rectangular pillars. And of course, Sachin Tendulkar, who enjoys the best vantage point from his lofty perch, just besides the scoreboard and above long-on. The pavilions are named after two of the finest products of Indore, Colonel CK Nayudu and Captain Mushtaq Ali. The dressing rooms imposingly bear the names of two of India’s best captains—MAK Pataudi and Rahul Dravid, both of whom were born here.
Shreyas Iyer chose the Sachin Tendulkar stands for his twinkling feet and fluid bat-swing to smear the ball for only the second six (overall) of the match. It crashed onto the roof, the hefty collision nearly shaking the very rudiments of it. It was the only stroke of the second session that didn’t define the mood of the session. Like an odd crack of thunder on a starlit sky. An aberration.
It came not from the desperation to unshackle, but from the sheer monotony of having to embrace caution, an unfitting cloak of caution fashioned by circumstance. In question was their stickability and not their sparkling repertoire of strokes. Prithvi Shaw had rendered them a frenetic start. The lead had almost been effaced. Now was the time to build the lead, incrementally and not furiously. Now was the time to right the wrongs of the first innings, where incredulous shot-selection had undid Iyer.
“I was very disappointed with that shot, and so this time I wanted to play according to the conditions and the context of the match,” he said. It’s applicable to his partner Suryakumar Yadav too.
Together, they resisted their natural urges in their contrasting methods. Iyer desisted the fatal swipes outside the off-stump. The trap was all too obvious. Seven of Parthiv Patel’s men formed an umbrella of catching men on the off-side. Iyer had earlier played and missed a few deliveries outside the off-stump and is prone to defending uppishly. The Gujarat skipper’s trusted accomplices of the day, RP Singh and Chintan Gaja peppered the off-side with fuller balls. Gaja would make it seam away; Singh from round the stumps would shape into him. But Iyer efficiently smothered the ploy. He curbed his extravagant drives, unless the delivery was that full to drive or rarely when his muscle memory prevailed over the practised restraint.
In the entire session, he scored only 37 runs, off 72 balls, brisk by general standards, and brisker by Yadav’s tempo in the second session. The Mumbai No 4 crawled to 14 from 85 balls, almost entirely cutting out the off-side canvas. Overall, they scored only 54 runs in 25 overs. With Prithvi in charge, they had stormed away to 66 in 13 overs.
The difference in run rate was almost 2.5, and this was even more striking because on the first two days, the ground was at its kindest to batsmen in this session. Gujarat scored nearly 130 runs at a neat clip.
But it was a desperate measure sought by desperate circumstances. It wasn’t the deficit of 100 runs that put them on the defensive, but the defensive lines the Gujarat bowlers sought. What, though, began as a defensive ploy morphed into negative tactics. There is a thin line that demarcates the negative from the defensive. The latter is when you choke the runs to bargain a wicket; the former is when your sole intention is to not let your rival batsman score runs, even if that nullifies the threat. “I was seriously bored,and at times frustrated because I like playing shots through the off-side. I don’t know whether I have left so many deliveries in a innings,” Iyer said.
The introduction of left-arm spinner Hardik Patel from over the wicket was another testimony to Gujarat’s mindset. They were like a mid-table side trying to guard a 1-0 lead against a bunch of galacticos. Park the bus, to borrow from the football lexicon.
An inferior version of his namesake Axar, Patel would mostly bowl on leg-stump or outside it with a well-spread out field. Apart from the short-leg and a really fine short fine-leg, they were no catchers in the ring. In the end, it only handed Mumbai, especially Iyer, the liberty of lofted strokes.
Iyer struck him for a six over mid-wicket, and hit three more boundaries in the same arc, between mid-wicket and long-on. And Patel returned with figures of 14-0-66-0, fully exposing the hollowness of Gujarat’s bottlenecking tactics. Later in the evening, which ended with him ruminating another ordinary shot that messed up an hundred-scoring opportunity, Iyer admitted that Patel’s entry gave him the licence to break free.
Maybe, if Iyer hadn’t floundered on 82, after a 147-run partnership from 46.1 overs with Yadav, Mumbai would have pushed their lead to a more significant number that the 108-margin they ended up with.
Mumbai 1st innings: 228
Gujarat 1st innings (o/n 291/6): Gandhi c Yadav b Thakur 17, Kalaria lbw b Sandhu 27, Gaja not out 11, RP Singh c Iyer b Sandhu 8, HP Patel c Tare b Thakur 1; Extras (B7, w5, nb5) 17; Total (all out;104.3 overs) 328
Fall of wickets: 1-11, 2-37, 3-106, 4-226, 5-254, 6-264 , 7-291, 8-313, 9-326
Bowling: Thakur 29.3-6 -84 -4 , Sandhu 24 -2-63-3, Nayar 30 -7-101-3, Gohil 8 -0 -34-0, Dabholkar 9 -3-21 -0, Lad 4-0-18-0
Mumbai 2nd innings: Herwadkar c Gohel b Gaja 16, Shaw c PA Patel b Gaja 44, Iyer c PA Patel b Gaja 82, SA Yadav not out 45, Tare not out 13; Extras (w6, nb2) 8; Total (3 wickets;67 overs) 208
Fall of wickets: 1-54, 2-66, 3-193
Bowling: RP Singh 14-4-37-0, Kalaria 13-5-36- 0, Gaja 19-8-54 -3, Merai 5-3-6-0, HP Patel 14- 0-66-0, Bhatt 2-0-9-0