Mumbai may have had a tiny window of opportunity when they reduced Madhya Pradesh to 430 for 6 – a lead of 56 for MP – on the fourth morning of the Ranji Trophy final at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. But Rajat Patidar’s brilliance and No 8 Saransh Jain’s pluck ensured MP stretched their first innings to 536 and kept Mumbai in the field for a gruelling 177.2 overs. Hardik Tamore, opening in the place of the injured Yashasvi Jaiswal, and Prithvi Shaw began the Mumbai second innings with a stand of 63 in 10.3 overs but MP began to bowl wide and Mumbai’s push ran out of steam with the exit of the openers. Heading into the final day, Mumbai were still behind by 49 and MP’s grip on their maiden Ranji title (since the state’s reorganization) appeared ironclad.
The Chinnaswamy pitch showed some signs of wear and tear early on the fourth day. Mohit Avasthi got a length delivery to take off for a surprised MP captain Aditya Shrivastava to edge to first slip off the keeper’s gloves. Shams Mulani got one to stay low and another one to kick from around the same spot just outside off stump. Mulani would extend his lead at the top of the season’s wicket-takers list to 42 scalps with a five-for in a punishing spell of 63.2 overs.
Tushar Deshpande also had his tail up early on, generating speeds of 140kph and finding his radar for once to uproot Akshat Raghuwanshi’s off stump. He would slip in a fuller one with the third new ball through the gap between Patidar’s bat and pad later, but the in-form batsman from Indore had MP in sight of 500 by then.
Shouts of ‘RCB, RCB’ would ring out from the stand next to the MP dressing room as the crowd of a few hundred cheered Patidar’s boundaries and his hundred, which came off 163 balls. Patidar did walk into a position of strength with the MP score on 269 for 2 but what stood out was the disdain with which he took the Mumbai bowling apart. Resuming on 67, he whipped his first ball of the day from Avasthi for four past a diving short midwicket.
Barring one occasion where he got a bit of a top-edge and the ball sailed wide of deep square leg, his pulls were absolutely dismissive. As were his punches off the back foot. It was a tired attack of which only Deshpande had some pace, but Patidar’s dominance was of the sort that stays in the memory for a while. His backfoot play was strong against the spinners too, with powerful cuts as well as late dabs past slip.
After Patidar departed, Jain kept the Mumbai fielders waiting for some more time, knocking the ball around and growing in confidence to make 57 off 97, his maiden first-class fifty. There were a couple of rain interruptions in the afternoon that took some more time out of the game, despite play being extended until 6pm, and light allowing action until just a few minutes before that deadline.
The MP innings ended with Jain holing out to long-on and giving Mulani his sixth five-for in ten innings this season. It did come with a steep learning curve as the left-arm spinner had to toil for long periods on the third day, which proved to be the best one for batting in this game.
“It took me a long time, yes, 63 overs. But it was important for me to hold one end up as much as I could,” a visibly tired Mulani said after stumps. “This wicket is difficult to bowl on, but you have to do the job for the team anyhow. At the end of the day, it is a personal milestone, yeah, but the team needs to win, that is more important.
“The third day was a very big learning phase for me because the wicket was not doing anything. But I had to keep bowling, I had to be there all the time. I got the results on the fourth day but I would have loved to get this result on the third day. But you watch and learn.”
Mulani maintained that despite trailing MP, Mumbai are still not completely out of the match. “Good first session tomorrow and we are in the game,” Mulani said. “If we get 50-60 overs to bowl them out, it is the fifth day, the pitch will turn, some might stay low, so we do have a chance. This game is not over yet.”
Mumbai did come out with plenty of intent as Tamore and Shaw bashed a few fours and sixes but on 25, Tamore edged a sweep onto his stumps off Kumar Kartikeya. MP began bowling wide outside off thereafter – they even conceded three wides. It worked as Shaw stretched for a wide one and slapped it to cover to depart for his second score of the match in the 40s.
In the only final MP have made previously, in 1998-99, they took a 75-run first-innings lead against Karnataka at this very venue. Set a target of 247, they were 108 for 3 before collapsing to 150 all out late on the final afternoon and surrendering their grasp on the title. Chandrakant Pandit was the MP captain then; as their coach now, he appears to have made sure there is very little possibility of a repeat 23 years later.
BRIEF SCORES: Mumbai 374 & 113 for 2 (Prithvi Shaw 44, Armaan Jaffer batting 30, Suved Parkar batting 9) trail Madhya Pradesh 536 (Yash Dubey 133, Rajat Patidar 122, Shubham Sharma 116, Saransh Jain 57; Shams Mulani 5/173, Tushar Deshpande 3/116) by 49 runs