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Ranji Trophy: Shardul leads Mumbai counter vs TN with maiden ton

His 104-ball 109 has put struggling Mumbai 207 runs ahead at 353/9, after TN skipper Sai Kishore’s six-wicket haul.

In this T20 age, not everyone is convinced by BCCI’s diktat that players must be available for domestic red-ball cricket. But for those with Test cricket ambitions, Ranji Trophy remains a great platform.

Shardul Thakur scored 109 runs against Tamil Nadu

Not all the league matches are easy to track for the national selectors, but they do have eyes fixed on the big knock-out games. Shardul Thakur for sure has benefitted from playing first-class cricket after recovering from an ankle injury.

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Playing the semi-final against Tamil Nadu at the BKC ground, the Mumbai all-rounder took the opportunity to serve a reminder of his return to form with a brilliant counter-attacking hundred on Sunday to go with a fine bowling display on Day 1.

His 109 (104 balls, 13×4, 4×6) coming in at No.9 bailed out Mumbai from a precarious 106/7, helping the team to finish Day 2 on 353/9, a sizeable lead of 207 runs.

Thakur’s ability with the bat is well known following a couple of valuable half-centuries in Test cricket, but this is the first century of his career, coming in his 11th first-class season, having made his Mumbai debut in 2012-13.

He reached his 50 off 57 balls, and took just 32 balls for his next fifty as he completed his century off 89 balls. Mumbai were down to 290/9 when he was dismissed, having helped extend the lead to 144.

Mumbai’s strength has been its strong lower-order displays this season. In the semi-final game the tail wagged again. After Tamil Nadu left-arm spinner R Sai Kishore ran through the top half of the batting, Thakur received excellent support from Hardik Tamore in a 105-run eighth-wicket stand, and Tanush Kotian during a 79-run ninth-wicket partnership.

The last wicket pair of Kotian and Tushar Deshpande added to TN’s agony with an unfinished partnership of 63. Fresh from their hundreds in the quarterfinal against Baroda at the same ground, Kotian helped himself to another attractive half-century (74*, 10 fours). Deshpande is batting on 17. The highlight of Kotian’s knocks was his three successive fours off pacer Kuldeep Sen to complete his half-century off 71 balls.

In the Mumbai top-order, the 19-year-old Musheer Khan was the only notable performer. He underlined his potential with a solid half-century (55, 6×4). Shreyas Iyer, under some pressure after losing his BCCI central contract for not playing Ranji Trophy in the earlier rounds following the Test axing, fell cheaply, bowled for three runs.

Throughout the season, Tamil Nadu have depended on their double left-arm spin attack of Sai Kishore and Ajith Ram. Skipper Sai Kishore was superb again but TN’s usual ploy of applying pressure from both ends didn’t work as Ajith Ram struggled for rhythm.

Kishore captured six wickets to take his season’s tally to 53. He waged a lone battle bowling unchanged the entire first session when he picked up four wickets in 17 overs during a spell of 17-6-28-4. Overall, in a marathon effort, he has bowled 37 overs for 6/97.

At lunch, Mumbai were 125/7 in reply to TN’s first innings 146 and the game was evenly poised. Post the break, Thakur came out attacking and broke the shackles with two fours off Ajith Ram and a slog-sweep for six off Kishore in the first three overs.

“There was not too much happening today in the pitch and I felt batsmen (top order) should have played with some kind of freedom. At times in big games if you are scared you tend to lose wickets, so you might as well play with freedom. That was the idea when I started batting,” said Thakur.

The stocky all-rounder went on to complete a blazing hundred with his fourth six and launched into animated celebration, punching the air and saluting the gallery after taking off his helmet.

Asked about his possible Test comeback after his Ranji performances this season, Thakur said: “I think international comeback is far from now because the Test team is out already for the fifth game and after this we are going into IPL. I am not thinking that far. But yes, scoring a century is a big, big relief and it was very important for the team at that point of time.”


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