Nobody, it seems, had wanted to play at the Wankhede Stadium. Indian team director Ravi Shastri had allegedly abused the curator Sudhir Naik during the final one-dayer against South Africa, and couple of days back even Mumbai had wanted to shift to another venue for their Ranji Trophy clash against Railways. Mumbai’s complaint against the pitch was the same as that of the national team – no help for the bowlers to force an outright win. Constant criticism seems to have worked as Mumbai got their wish, a pitch that helped the bowlers, and their best bowler Shardul Thakur struck four times to bundle out Railways for 217.
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Sunday’s pitch, incidentally, not only helped the seamers but also the spinners and the game proceeded at a rapid speed on the opening day that saw 13 wickets fall and Mumbai lose two wickets — their debutant Jay Bista and nightwatchman Dhawal Kulkarni — for just four runs by stumps.
Railways did well actually to reach 217 after being 4 for 48 at one stage as Arindham Ghosh and the debutant Sagar Mishra stayed put for 37 overs to add 85 runs.
It was Thakur who broke the stalemate by inducing Mishra to chase one outside off stump and edge to the ‘keeper Aditya Tare. The floodgates re-opened thereafter with the left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh grabbing two quick wickets.
Railways’s captain Mahesh Rawat and Akshat Pandey were caught by Akhil Herwadkar off Harmeet Singh at short-leg while Bista had Karn Sharma miscuing an attempted big hit to covers. Ghosh, who was the only one looking solid, made 67 before edging the left-arm spinner Vishal Dabholkar to Suryakumar Yadav at slip. Few overs later, Dhawal Kulkarni uprooted stumps of Anureet Singh to seal the day for Mumbai bowlers.
However, Mumbai, who had to face only six overs of the day, didn’t get onto a good start. They lost their 19-year old Bista, cutting Anureet Singh straight to gully and Kulkarni was outfoxed by a googly from Karn Sharma.The day, though, belonged to Thakur who yet again impressed with the ball. Last domestic season’s highest wicket-taker, he has continued to improve this year and has been pushing hard to get a spot in the Indian squad. He has grabbed three four-wicket hauls this season and has been left ruing the missing wicket.“I don’t know why I am not getting five-wicket haul. I am bowling well and this was my third four wicket haul. Fast bowling is always a difficult job but one has to look at weather. Last season we started in November and now we started Ranji games in (heat of) October. Weather plays a part sometimes,” he says.
Mumbai had started badly, yielding a first-innings lead to Andhra, a middling-level Ranji team, in their first game of the season but have bounced back nicely from then on and Thakur, along with Shreyas Iyer, has played a big part in their progress.
Brief scores: Railways 217 all out (Aridam Ghosh 67, Sagar Mishra 46; D Kulkarni 2 for 40, S Thakur 4 for 38, Harmeet Singh 2 for 41) v Mumbai 4 for 2.