Kulkarni rattles Saurashtra

Paceman grabs four wickets as Mumbai wrest control on day one

Kulkarni rattles Saurashtra

Mumbai flexed their muscles like only they do to establish a firm control over the Ranji Trophy final against Saurashtra who admittedly had to negotiate difficult conditions that the greenish opening-day pitch served up.

Saurashtra coach Sitanshu Kotak’s worst fears came true when Mumbai — playing a Ranji final without a Test player for the first time — won the toss and put the opposition in on a surface that kept the pacers interested through the whole of Wednesday here at the MCA Stadium. While the pitch did play its role in Saurashtra’s batting woes, their batsmen will also have to share equal, if not more, blame for their disintegration despite a positive start.

At close of play on day one, Saurashtra were teetering at 192/8; the semblance of respect to the innings coming through a dogged innings by Arpit Vasavada (77, 214b, 6x4), who came into bat in the eighth over of the day, and his 84-run stand with debutant Prerak Mankad (55 batting, 119b, 5x4) for the eighth wicket. The discipline and determination showed by Vasavada and Mankad was in stark contrast to the lack of application by the majority of the top-order batsmen, Cheteshwar Pujara being no exception.

Openers Avi Barot and Sagar Jogiyani appeared positive without being extravagant but an ill-advised flick by the former opened the flood gates. Barot clipped Dhawal Kulkarni (4/30) only to pick Shreyas Iyer at square leg. Once Kulkarni drew the first blood, his new-ball partner Shardul Thakur (2/59) too got into the act to remove Jogiyani in the next over.

Though there was some assistance for the pacers in the form of movement off the turf, it was crucial for Kulkarni, who returned to the 11 after missing the semifinal due to hamstring injury, and Thakur to hit the right line and length and not get carried away by the helpful conditions. It would have been tempting to resort to short-pitched bowling given the bounce and carry in the pitch but the two leading pacemen consistently pitched up the ball and jagged the ball around just enough to leave the batsmen in doubt.

Kulkarni was particularly impressive with the new ball and the way he set-up Pujara was impressive. Having fed Pujara with a few incoming deliveries, Kulkarni shaped one away and the right-hander managed a nick to wicketkeeper as he closed the face of his bat in an attempted flick through mid-wicket. Sheldon Jackson, Jaydev Shah, Chirag Jani and Deepak Punia didn’t show the stomach for fight as Mumbai reduced Saurashtra to 126 for seven by tea.

While a quick end appeared inevitable in the final session, Vasavada and Mankad defied the Mumbai attack with a resistance conspicuous by its absence in the first two sessions. With the pitch having baked under scorching sun and the ball getting old, batting became relatively easy. Just as there was reward for bowlers for maintaining discipline, there was dividend for batsmen as well for being patient. Vasavada and Mankad exhibited that quality to prevent Saurashtra innings from slipping into complete disarray. 

Vasavada justified the faith reposed in him while Mankad belied his inexperience in a delightful exhibition of old school batting. It was a shame that Vasavada, who batted all but 33 minutes of day’s play, was dismissed off the fourth ball of what would have been the final over for the day; the new ball and Kulkarni doing the trick for Mumbai.

While the total still appears inadequate, Saurashtra are hoping to extend it by another 50 runs and have a crack at Mumbai’s mighty batting. Jaydev Unadkat has two 10-wicket hauls in quarterfinal and semifinal and if the left-arm seamer gets going, it could prove tricky. 

The pitch isn’t going to ease out quickly and Saurashtra will have to make the most of their new ball to stay in the game. 

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