Defending champions Mumbai, who were sitting pretty at the top of Group A by the end of the first five games, suddenly find themselves struggling to stay in contention for a quarter-final berth in the Ranji Trophy with one game remaining.
Their campaign, in fact, seems to be in disarray after the 40-time champions were beaten by Karnataka by 160 runs in Bangalore yesterday. This was their first outright win over Mumbai in22 attempts.
The hosts did well to bounce back after Mumbai took the first innings lead on Tuesday. A century by Manish Pandey (119) and a half-century by Ravikumar Samarth helped them post 299, thereby leaving Mumbai with a 282-run victory target.
The onus was now on Karnataka bowlers, who did not disappoint as Mumbai were bowled out for a meagre 121 in their second stint.
Karnataka, with 32 points, became the first team from Group A to qualify for the knockouts, while Mumbai is at No 3 with 23 points. To qualify for the next round, Mumbai have to claim an outright win over Gujarat, who are in second position with 26 points. To make matters worse for Mumbai, Punjab, on 23 points, too will be fancying their chances as they are scheduled to play Jharkhand next.
Over-dependence on Wasim Jaffer after Zaheer Khan and Ajinkya Rahane left for national duty seems to be costing Mumbai dearly. Whenever Jaffer failed to deliver in the past three games, Mumbai caved in pretty meekly.
They failed to take the first innings lead against Jharkhand (December 6-10). Against Karnataka too, Mumbai collapsed after Jaffer flopped in both innings (0 & 3).
“Over-dependence on Jaffer is hurting Mumbai big time,” coach Sulakshan Kulkarni told MiD DAY yesterday. “The game was over when they managed to dismiss Jaffer. He is not in a position where we can tell him to just enjoy his natural game. He has a huge responsibility on his shoulders. It also puts him under tremendous pressure to perform in every match. We need other batsmen to stand up and take responsibility.”
After securing 19 points from the first four matches, Mumbai have lost their way, managing only four points from the last three games.
Captaincy has also changed hands in the last three matches. Abhishek Nayar, who is injured, led the team against Jharkhand while Jaffer was in charge for the matches against Odisha and Karnataka.
Is change in captaincy affecting Mumbai’s momentum? “I am very happy with the way Jaffer marshalled his resources in the match against Karnataka. His field placement was accurate. I have no complaints,” said Kulkarni.
“Our batsmen disappointed us in this game. The plan was clear that we would draw the game on the fourth day. But they did not stick to the plan. Though the batsmen did not get out playing wild shots, they should know how to play in such situations at this level,” he added.
Nevertheless, the coach is confident Mumbai will qualify for the knockouts. “The mood in the dressing room is fine. We had a meeting after the match where I told the boys that we had just one bad day in this match. I am sure we will bounce back and qualify for the knockouts.”