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Mumbai, the 39-time champions, were playing for pride and three points. They had lost to the same opposition in the quarterfinal stage of the previous edition, and some of those ghosts were buried as Abdulla (64) and Kulkarni (60) dragged Mumbai to a first-innings lead at the Brabourne Stadium. And that was achieved largely due to the emphasis on batting laid down upon the tailenders.
Although it was Abhishek Nayar and Rohit Sharma who helped Mumbai dream of surpassing Rajasthan’s total with twin centuries on Saturday, Nayar’s injury (on 155) had ensured that the tail had to wag if the hosts stood a chance of salvaging anything from this Group A fixture. But both Kulkarni and Abdulla were on the job, steadying Mumbai’s ship against the testing swing of Pankaj Singh and Deepak Chahar.
The Rajasthan pacers bowled consistently in the corridor of uncertainty, hoping for the batsmen to commit a mistake. But being bowlers themselves, the fifth wicket duo understood the ploy and remained patient to turn the tide.
While Kulkarni’s knock ended 10 runs before the target, Abdulla ensured that the team sailed past Rajasthan’s total, and duely lost his wicket with Mumbai on 537. And just to rub salt into the visitors wounds, Nayar returned to the wicket despite cramps and a throbbing wrist and notched his first ever double century in the Ranji Trophy, arguably his finest knock in the game. And thanks to his 243, Mumbai notched 625 — a lead of 95 over the visitors.
“Mumbai is the team it is because our bowlers can also bat,” said Wasim Jaffer, captain of the side. “So when a tailender walks out to the middle in a pressure situation, we know that he can contribute 30-odd runs to the cause. That’s exactly what Dhawal and Iqbal did today.”
“But it was Nayar and Rohit who completely changed the complexion of the game,” Jaffer added. The last wicket partnership between Nayar and Murtuza Hussain bothered the mentally drained Rajasthan side for 69 more runs, before their fast bowlers could put their feet up in the dressing room.
Rajasthan’s star performer was Pankaj Singh, who finished with five wickets for his tireless effort on a track tailormade for runs. Rajasthan skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar later said that it was their game to lose, which they did by dropping plenty of catches. The Mumbai camp, however, weren’t complaining.
Brief scores: Rajasthan 530 & 70 for 2; Mumbai 625 (Abhishek Nayar 243, Rohit Sharma 100, Suryakumar Yadav 87, Dhawal Kulkarni 60, Iqbal Abdulla 64; Pankaj Singh 5 for 111).
Points: Mumbai 3, Rajasthan 1