Ranji Trophy champions Mumbai are well on their way to sealing a semifinal berth after a remarkable day of medium-pace bowling that unsettled the Maharashtra batsmen no end.
New-ball bowler Shardul Thakur, who has shown brilliant improvement this season, ran through the Maharashtra line-up that boasts two of the highest run-getters in the tournament. With figures of 4/62 from 14 overs and a career-best first-class haul in sight, Thakur helped Mumbai restrict the visitors to 219/7, still trailing by 183 runs. The hosts had made 402 in their first essay.
Day Two of the quarterfinal belonged to Mumbai, and particularly the 22-year-old Thakur, except for about an hour-and-a-half when Maharashtra withstood some fine fast bowling through Kedar Jadhav (51, 108 minutes, 66 balls, 9x4) and Ankit Bawne (84, 130 minutes, 113 balls, 12x4, 2x6).
The duo shared 115 for the fourth wicket after Thakur, making good use of the conditions, had reduced them to 24/3 by the seventh over.
It was a sight to behold when Thakur, encouraged constantly by skipper Zaheer Khan, bowled to a field of three slips, two gullies, two leg gullies, a forward short-leg and a silly mid-off. This was more or less the field that Zaheer, Thakur and Javed Khan bowled to. The trio also sprayed short balls frequently at the Maharashtra batsmen, testing them most of the time. They were, however, unlucky to not find the edge on many occasions.
Complementing the bowlers were Mumbai’s close-in fielders, even though Maharashtra could have been in greater trouble had Wasim Jaffer, stationed at second slip, held on to a head-high offering from Bawne (then on five). Thakur was the bowler on that occasion. Later, Thakur had himself to blame for overstepping when he got Bawne (then on 35) to nick one to Vinit Indulkar at third slip.
Bawne counterattacked and upset Mumbai’s rhythm. He succeeded to an extent when he slammed four boundaries in front of square on the off side in Javed’s first over. With vast open spaces, the gamble worked in his favour.
When Maharashtra began their innings fresh after lunch, they were already down morally. Their medium-pace trio of Samad Fallah, Anupam Sanklecha and Shrikant Mundhe failed to polish off the Mumbai tail first up in the morning. Adding to their woes, their top three fell to some inspired fast bowling. Captain Rohit Motwani fell leg before to an inswinging full-toss from Thakur; Harshad Khadiwale, who came into this game with 930 runs in the bag, edged to the slip cordon while India U-19 captain Vijay Zol, who began well with two well-timed boundaries off Zaheer, was castled by the same bowler after misjudging the bounce.
Then ensued the fourth-wicket partnership that was broken in strange fashion as Jadhav, soon after reaching his fifty, fell to a wicketkeeper’s catch, the thick edge off Vishal Dabholkar ricocheting off Aditya Tare’s pads.
Thakur struck twice in his third spell by removing Bawne, who needlessly chased a widish delivery into Tare’s gloves, and Sangram Atitkar. Javed, who beat the batsmen umpteen times without luck, was rewarded courtesy an exceptional catch by Kaustubh Pawar who dived to his left at gully to dismiss Chirag Khurana.