Mumbai’s decision to not go for an outright win despite being in a strong position against Gujarat in their last group league game of the Ranji Trophy left everyone stunned.
With 135 to win in a minimum off 41 overs, the 39-time champions bizarrely decided to abort the chase with one hour’s play left on the final day at the DY Patil Stadium yesterday.
The decision was all the more shocking as the hosts required 70 in last 14 overs with nine wickets in hand. Mumbai finished with 65 for one with Hiken Shah batting on 42 and Kaustubh Pawar on 15 at close.
Mumbai drew the game, but gained the valuable first innings lead to pocket three points in order to qualify for quarter-final while Gujarat, who folded up for 337 in their second dig, were knocked out of the Ranji Trophy.
Mumbai was the third team to qualify from Group A as Saurashtra took the second spot with a stunning victory over Madhya Pradesh in Rajkot yesterday. Punjab topped the group and was the first team to qualify. Mumbai will take on Baroda here from January 6.
Mumbai’s weird decision also stunned the selectors and a few Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) officials who were present here. A senior MCA official also remarked: “This is not the Mumbai team we know. Mumbai has always played its cricket in a dominating and aggressive manner.”
Team’s coach Sulakshan Kulkarni, though defended the decision. “If we would’ve got the semi-final spot, then we would’ve definitely gone for an outright win. Our main job was to qualify (for the quarter-final) and we did that.
“It doesn’t matter if we are second or third in the group as there are going to be fresh draws for the quarter-finals,” he said.
Kulkarni on Monday had stressed that the team would go for the kill as it would boost the players’ confidence going into knockout round. “Yes, we were aiming for a victory, but it was not necessary to go for it. All we wanted to do is to qualify and we did that (by taking the first innings lead).
“The asking rate was nearly five an over and we did not want to take unnecessary risk. Cricket is a funny game. The scenario could have changed had we lost a few wickets. We wanted to play it safe,” Kulkarni further justified.
One of the reasons why Mumbai’s think-tank did not take the ‘risk’ could be the absence of veteran batsman and centurion of the first innings Wasim Jaffer, who left in the morning after his father suffered a heart attack.
Coach Kulkarni clarified that there was no pre-decided plan of not going for the chase. “We decided to take a call looking at how the match pans out,” he said. Mumbai’s openers Kaustubh Pawar and Aditya Tare showed no intention of going for the victory in their second innings, scoring the first run after 25 balls.
Shah tried to step up the scoring rate by punishing left-arm spinner Rakesh Dhurv for four fours in an over just before tea interval.
Earlier, overnight batsmen Manprit Juneja and Chirag Gandhi dug hard as Gujarat survived morning jitters. The duo added 97 for the sixth wicket as they made most of the absence of veteran pacer and stand-in Mumbai skipper Zaheer Khan, who missed second day on the trot due to a calf strain.
Mumbai’s vice-captain Abhishek Nayar provided the crucial breakthrough, dismissing Gandhi (64) leg before. A little later Nayar claimed the wicket of Rakesh Dhurv (1). Pacer Dhawal Kulkarni ended Rush Kalaria’s 39-ball 43 cameo after Kaustubh Pawar caught him at covers.
Juneja was soon running out partners after Nayar took an acrobatic catch to dismiss Kushang Patel (8) off left-arm spinner Ankeet Chavan.
Left with no option but to go for his shots, Juneja missed out on a deserving century as Surya Kumar Yadav took a diving catch at long-on off Chavan’s bowling to dismiss Juneja on 98.