Sachin Tendulkar warmed up for his farewell series against the West Indies next month with a gritty unbeaten half-century to keep Mumbai's chances alive in their Ranji Trophy match against a spirited Haryana at Lahli on Tuesday.
Featuring in his last Ranji Trophy innings, Tendulkar played the lone-ranger as he remained not out on a patient 55 at stumps on the third day, with Mumbai, set a target of 240, needing another 39 runs to win with four wickets in hand.
The 40-time defending champions were 201 for six at close of day, with Dhawal Kulkarni giving Tendulkar company on six.
Resuming at 224 for nine, Haryana were all bowled out for 241 earlier in the day.
After that Tendulkar held centrestage by showing signs of regaining his form, much to the delight of the packed crowd who had been awaiting his arrival at the crease with bated breath.
The champion batsman, who will walk into sunset after playing his landmark 200th Test against the West Indies next month, decorated his innings with four hits to the fence while facing 122 balls. One shot that brought back the days of yore was the cracker of a cover drive Tendulkar produced off pacer Ashish Hooda, attracting huge cheers from the packed crowd.
Chants of 'Sachin, Sachin' was heard almost all day long and he obliged his fans in this sleepy village by recording his 115th first-class fifty.
Today as he walked out to bat for his last innings in domestic cricket, the Haryana team members stood on either side to honour of the cricket legend.
Tendulkar, who was dismissed for five in the first innings, got to his 50 when he flicked Joginder Sharma for two through the vacant square leg region, bringing the crowd to its feet. The 40-year-old Tendulkar was concentration personified as he looked to bail Mumbai out of a difficult situation by bringing into play all his experience. He was far from being his aggressive best, but on this tricky track at the Chaudhary Bansi Lal Stadium, patience was the order of the day and Tendulkar showed that in abundance.
In the morning, Mumbai took less than three overs to dismiss Harshal Patel and bring to an end Haryana's second innings. Before holing out to Dhawal Kulkarni off his own bowling, Patel had smashed his way to 33 invaluable runs that helped in swelling the hosts' lead.
Patel started from where he had left off on Monday evening, hitting a Kulkarni delivery straight over his head and into the sightscreen for a maximum. The six was followed by a four but while going one for one too many, he got out in the next ball. But the bowler, by then, had done more than his share with the willow.
Mumbai's chase started on a disastrous note as they lost Ranji Trophy's most prolific scorer, Wasim Jaffer, in the second over as he played away from his body to edge an outswinger to wicketkeeper Nitin Saini.
An 86-run partnership ensued for the second wicket between Ajinkya Rahane and Kaustabh Pawar. Mumbai's top-scorer in the first innings, Rahane contributed 40 this time around, and his knock included four hits to fence before he was shown the door by off-spinner Jayant Yadav who bowled the batsman with a ball that did not turn ass much as his previous delivery.
Rahane's departure, with Mumbai at 87 for two, once again brought the packed crowd to its feet as it signalled the arrival of Tendulkar into the crease.
Around 6000 spectators had since morning trooped into the Chaudhary Bansi Lal Stadium, hoping to see their favourite cricketer produce a special knock. Beginning his innings with a single to long-on, Tendulkar soon whipped off his pads a length delivery, drifting on his pads, to the fine leg fence. The bowler was Mohit Sharma, who bowled the master cheaply in the first innings to ensure Lahli's crowd dispersed in a jiffy.
A wicket was to follow soon as Pawar, after grinding his way to a laborious 47 off 136 balls, fell to the perseverance of Sharma who surprised the batsman with a back of a length delivery that moved in a bit on landing for Saini to taking a diving one-handed low catch.
Patiently waiting for the bad deliveries, Tendulkar got the into the groove when he found one as cut a Patel's short and wide ball past backward point for a four.
Tendulkar along with Abhishek Nayar tried to stabilise the innings but Ashish Hooda, bowling from the pavilion end, provided a breakthrough as the young batsman, who took a big stride forward, could not connect with the ball that straightened a bit on landing.
Mumbai needed 80 runs with six wickets remaining, when Nayar got out. After his exploits with the bat, Patel ran out Aditya Tara with a direct throw from deep midwicket boundary.
Next man-in Hiken Shah relieved the pressure by cutting Patel over gully, but fell while trying to loft Sharma over mid-off.