While Shitanshu Kotak is one of the more affable players on the circuit,the 36-year-old Saurashtra veteran can easily turn into an irritating,immovable object when he finds himself in the deep end,and a gritty rearguard is the only way out. And if there is an opponent that he relishes tormenting,it must be Mumbai,who have faced Kotaks dogged wrath numerous times in the past.
On Tuesday,with Mumbai declaring at 637-6,it was almost inevitable that Kotak would rise to the occasion. He did that,battling for a remarkable 352 minutes and scoring 89 before falling two overs from close of play to hand the initiative back to Mumbai with one day left in the contest.
Saurashtra finished the day at 245 for five,with Jaydev Shah (45) and Kamlesh Makhwana (0) at the crease. Overhauling Mumbais first innings mountain is almost out of the question,but Saurashtra,if they bat out the final day,will go through to the final based on a better net-rate than Mumbai through the league phase. Under the circumstances,Kotaks late dismissal was a blow they could have done without.
Apart from the odd spark,Mumbai put on a disappointing show both with the ball and on the field,as a number of chances went abegging. Captain Jaydev Shah proved to be the biggest beneficiary,giving the expression charmed life new meaning as he stayed unbeaten on a hard-fought 45.
Vinayak Samant muffed a regulation stumping opportunity when Shah failed to connect with an ugly swipe on eight. When the wicket-keeper did hang on to an edge,the umpire signalled a no-ball.
Earlier,Saurashtra got off to a blistering start but lost their openers in the process,bringing Cheteshwar Pujara to the crease. Pujara started off gingerly,as Zaheer and Agarkar kept him on his toes,but seemed to get into his stride as the session wore on. But,with just seven balls to go for the lunch break,Pujara glided a Powar delivery straight into Jaffers hands at slip,leaving Saurashtra at 123-3.
Ravindra Jadeja didnt hang around for too long,as he fell to a wide slash outside his off-stump off a Zaheer delivery. Kotak and Shah then strung together a 94-run partnership,before the veteran fighter fended a Kulkarni delivery straight into Rohit Sharmas hands at leg-slip.
Kotak insisted that his teams strategy was to play their natural game,rather than simply survive for two days. The ball wasnt coming onto the bat too well,and even the ball that dismissed me held up before it reached me. One good session tomorrow could still keep us in the game, he said.
Five wickets are all that remain between Mumbai and an opportunity to gun for their 38th Ranji victory in Hyderabad,but Saurashtra still hold an outside chance of going through if Shah and company manage to hold on for an unlikely 90 overs on Wednesday.