Imagine the mindset of a batsman surrounded by as many as nine close-in fielders waiting to latch on to any and every offering. On a pitch conducive for seam bowling, all a pacer has to do is bowl in the right areas and hope that fielders do the rest.
The Australian side of the 1970s intimidated opposing batsmen by placing nine fielders around the bat. A packed slip cordon was the feature of the fiery West Indies pace quartet which sent shivers down every batsman’s spine.
Something similar was on display at the Wankhede on Thursday when the Mumbai bowlers had a go at Maharashtra. Sharing the new ball with Zaheer Khan, young Shardul Thakur bowled with three slips, two gullies, two leg gullies, a forward short-leg and a silly mid-off for the better part of his 14 overs. This was something long-time followers of Mumbai cricket hadn’t seen in a long time.
Zaheer and first-change bowler Javed Khan bowled to a similar field but with one gully fielder less. Having posted a first-innings total of 402, Mumbai set out to dismiss the opposition as early as possible. The packed field caught the Maharashtra batsmen off guard. Not allowed to play their strokes freely, Maharashtra batsmen fell to the prey set by Zaheer.
“I bowled to a similar field against Vidarbha earlier this season,” Thakur said. The 22-year-old executed what his captain had set him out to do. “Zaheer has been of great help to the fast bowlers. He guides us as to what to bowl to which batsman and even sets the field. The plan was to mix up the deliveries, pepper the batsmen with short balls and other variations,” said Thakur, who picked up 4/62 and hastened Maharashtra’s collapse.
With doubts already cast in the batsmen’s minds, the Mumbai medium-pacers were unperturbed when they were counterattacked, largely by Ankit Bawne. The Maharashtra No. 5 batsman admitted that this was the quickest bowling attack he had faced.
“We have not played on such pitches (that assisted fast bowling). We had no idea. They were the quickest I have faced this season,” Bawne said.
Having such a packed close-in field would prove futile if the catches went abegging. Thankfully for Zaheer and Co., the catches that came their way were taken except for a difficult chance when the ball brushed second slip Wasim Jaffer’s outstretched hands as Bawne edged a Thakur short delivery.
To add to these, Mumbai bowlers worked on the minds of the batsmen, and succeeding in taking wickets. Thakur’s first wicket came when Rohit Motwani was trapped in front of the crease off a swinging full toss, just a delivery after the bowler sent down a short ball, though overstepping the crease.
On another occasion, Bawne, who seemed to be Maharashtra’s saviour, chased a widish bouncer and edged to wicketkeeper Aditya Tare, just after he survived a yorker that he managed to dig out.
Bawne may have succeeded in going after the bowling to some extent but the Mumbai bowlers won the battle and have placed them quite firmly on the road to the Ranji Trophy semifinal.