Mumbai bag title number 41 in style

Mumbai bag title number 41 in style

What was shaping into an absorbing contest with the bowlers from either side holding sway over the batsmen on the first two days, ended in a lop-sided affair in a remarkable turn of events on the middle day of the Ranji Trophy final here at the MCA Stadium on Friday.

After two days of exchanges, the match was pregnant with possibilities but Saurashtra contrived to snatch defeat from a position of relative comfort as Mumbai were crowned the Ranji Champions for the 41st time. For the record, Mumbai emerged winners by an innings and 21 runs after skittling Saurashtra for a modest 115 in the second innings, barely half an hour into the post tea session. Shardul Thakur (5/26) was the wrecker-in-chief, finishing off the proceedings by cleaning up Hardik Rathod to trigger off wild celebrations in the Mumbai camp.

Resuming at their overnight score of 262/8, Mumbai weren’t expected to prolong their innings but Siddhesh Lad (88, 101b, 8x4, 5x6) and last man Balwinder Singh Sandhu (34 n.o., 49b, 6x4) launched a spectacular counterattack to take the game away from Saurashtra’s grasp. Though Mumbai pacemen exposed the woefully inadequate Saurashtra batting with another disciplined performance on a lively surface, it was the little-built Lad who effectively killed the game as a contest with his stunning stroke-play that left the rival attack in a complete daze.

Jaydev Unadkat managed to prise out Iqbal Abdulla early in the day but Lad and Sandhu unleashed barrage of strokes to change the complexion of the game. Lad in particular was severe against all comers, essaying one outlandish shot after another; his six off Unadkat over cover fence being the most outrageous one. While Mumbai had obvious reasons to take chances, Saurashtra bowlers didn’t help their cause by trying to match the batsmen’s aggression. In the process, they bowled too many boundary balls which were gleefully lapped up by Lad and Sandhu.

The two added 103 runs in just 93 balls for the last wicket to help Mumbai extend their lead to 136 that most probably left Saurashtra dispirited. Their catching woes spilled over to the second day as well, greatly contributing to their problems. They let off man-of-the-match Shreyas Iyer at 37 on the opening day and he went on to score 117. On Friday, Cheteshwar Pujara failed to grab straightforward offer from Lad on 24 off Unadkat and he punished them brutally for that lapse.

By the time Lad was dismissed, there was no challenge left in Saurashtra batsmen. They could neither grind it out in testing conditions nor could they take chances and go on the offensive. Their approach to batting smacked of confusion and as Mumbai made quick inroads, they caved in without offering a semblance of fight. Pujara, whose first boundary off the bat took 68 balls to arrive, typified Saurashtra’s struggles. His inability to fend off a short delivery wasn’t the most encouraging sight for the batsmen in the dugout.

Saurashtra coach Sitanshu Kotak felt a couple of their batsmen could have played the way Iyer and Lad batted. “It looked like if you took a chance and played, you would have been better off,” he noted. “But it’s a very hard advice to give it to a batsman that ‘you take a chance and play’. Unless somebody’s game is like that and is lucky enough to survive like Shreyas did, got dropped and he got beaten at least about 8-10 times and didn’t nick it… You have got to give credit to him, the way he batted and some fantastic shots. But I think as a coach, it is very difficult to tell a batsman you take a chance and play strokes.”

Also, in contrast to Saurashtra’s wayward bowling in the morning, Mumbai bowlers looked in supreme control of their craft. All three pacers – Dhawal Kulkarni (2/34), Sandhu (2/21) and Thakur – worked up good speed and hit the ideal line and length to drive home the advantage. Skipper and stumper Aditya Tare’s feat of most dismissals in a Ranji season (48), which broke Andhra ’keeper KS Bharat’s record of 46 in the last season, was the perfect icing on the cake for the champions.

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