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Ranji Trophy: Karun Nair 74 keeps Mumbai waiting for title No.42

Despite Vidarbha’s stubborn resistance on Day 4, they are still 290 runs away from an improbable win with five wickets standing

The dhols called over to add atmosphere anticipating Mumbai’s win over Vidarbha on Day 4 will have to assemble again on Thursday. Same for the dignitaries who came for the post-match presentation. Mumbai’s tiring pacers, two of whom must join IPL camps, too will return on the final day of the Ranji Trophy final at the Wankhede Stadium.

Vidharbha’s batter Karun Nair celebrates after scoring a half-century on the fourth day of the Ranji Trophy final vs Mumbai(PTI)

Having scored 418 in their second innings to set Vidarbha a fourth innings target of 538 before stumps on Tuesday, the 41-time champions would have expected their opponents to crumble, having dismissed them for 105 in the first innings. Vidarbha though showed far more resilience to survive the day, finishing on 248/5 at stumps.

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Minutes after play ended, the Mumbai team got into a huddle at the boundary to celebrate, not the Ranji title as they would have set out to at the start of the day but spinner Shams Mulani’s birthday.

Vidarbha’s batters gave ample evidence on Wednesday that they would not make it easy for Mumbai. Through Karun Nair’s patient 74 (220b, 3×4) and skipper Akshay Wadkar’s enterprising 56* (91b, 6×4, 1×6), the visitors kept Mumbai waiting for their 42nd title. At stumps, they were another 290 runs away and had lost the all-important wicket of Nair five overs from the close.

After their embarrassing batting display in the first innings, the onus was on Vidarbha’s Karnataka import and former India batter Nair to show his mettle. And he did.

When he walked out to bat, Mumbai spinners Mulani and Tanush Kotian had removed openers Atharva Taide (32) and Dhruv Shorey (28).

However, by then it was evident that the pace bowlers would have to bend their back to extract any help from the pitch. Dhawal Kulkarni, Shardul Thakur and Tushar Deshpande tried, but couldn’t make the new ball count.

There was turn on offer, but slow. Mumbai’s spinners had found their landing spot and were creating opportunities galore. On 4, Kotian got one to jump off the surface and got Nair to nick, but wicketkeeper Hardik Tamore grassed the chance. Nair’s Test triple hundred may have come eight years ago, but dropping a player of that pedigree can have consequences.

Nair attempted the odd reverse sweep, but couldn’t connect any. That’s when the 32-year-old decided to buckle down and trust his defence.

He first raised a 54-run third wicket partnership with Aman Mokhade (32). He then frustrated Mumbai with a 90-run fifth-wicket stand with Wadkar that ate up 173 balls. Between lunch and tea, Vidarbha managed only 51 runs in 29 overs. It was proper attritional cricket, of the kind we have seen quite a lot in this match, young Musheer Khan having given a fine example of that grit in his second innings 136 (326 balls).

“I could have taken more chances, but at what cost?” Nair asked. “It was not easy to score on the 4th day. We had two days to bat. So, I tried to break it down to small targets. To try and take it to the last day and see where it goes.”

On a personal front, this is another of Nair’s efforts to steer his career out of troubled waters. After the disappointment of being dropped following his triple century against England in Chennai, he had lost his India place for good on the 2018 England tour. He then endured the pain of being dropped by Karnataka last year. He finally found a new home in Nagpur and some solidity – he is Vidarbha’s top-scorer this Ranji season with 690 runs.

“After last year, I was just happy to play. I didn’t know what I was doing at home,” he said. “I feel I have batted pretty well by getting runs in all the formats. I started by playing a few games in the County championship. To get a 150 at the Oval gave me a lot of confidence. I don’t want to say that, but honestly it was hard to sit and watch others play (last year).”

Despite the hard grind and no immediate rewards, Mumbai spinners stuck to their task. Kotian (20-1-6-2) and Mulani (29-8-56-1) did what was expected of them and found an ally in Musheer (20-3-38-2), whose quicker trajectory worked just fine on the tiring surface as his dismissal of Nair, caught behind defending, showed.


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