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Ranji Trophy Finals: MP solid after Sarfaraz Khan anchors Mumbai

Sarfaraz Khan had just beaten Gaurav Yadav for Four Behind Square when he ran straight into the seamer, his eyes on the distant ball that slammed the fielder into the rope. The impact shook him so badly that he lay motionless on the ground for a few moments, his face contorted in pain.

He had injured his leg and his helmet grille had absorbed most of the impact, so he was stunned for a while before he was able to get back on his feet after some treatment. And right on the next ball he was hit by a peach, rearing up over the outside edge. The intense concentration he’d been applying all morning seemed to have momentarily evaporated after the blow.

What happened in the next delivery sums up the virgin genius of Sarfaraz, who sniffs out running hits from the smallest openings. There was not much to complain about the tight delivery; it wasn’t too far out, just holding its line. There was adequate protection. Deep Point was a few yards from the border, and the third man was right on the edge of the rope. Sarfaraz played one of those harmless looking punchy dabs; The placement was right between those two men, and the timing was so good it teased both fielders before breaking through to the rope.

Mumbai was seven down by then and still hadn’t reached 300. As so often in previous Ranji seasons and this one, Sarfaraz was Mumbai’s only hope. When he became the last wicket to fall and holed ahead of Yadav for 134 balls from 243 balls, he had dragged Mumbai from 228 for 5 to 374 on day two of the Ranji Trophy final against Madhya Pradesh.

Sarfaraz had gone to stumps on day one with 40 out of 125. Despite the alert start of the second morning against the second new ball and falling wickets at the other end, he still took 94 from 118. The last four batsmen he formed partnerships with combined 29.

He had avoided playing the sweep on day one when MP filled the field on the leg side and largely stayed away from it on Thursday as well. But as he played the shot against left-arm spinner Kumar Kartikeya, he left the deep back square leg, square leg and deep midwicket to watch the ball.

Meanwhile, the MP sailors still rolled the ball around nicely on another overcast morning. Yadav bowled Tanush Kotian with a seaman’s broken leg deviating so much against the incoming angle. MP had only played four front bowlers and Yadav and Anubhav Agarwal, the two pace specialists, ran between them without slacking off for nearly 65 overs, taking seven wickets together. They consistently swung and lined the ball both ways and presented a master class at stepping up in the big event. Anubhav earned Sarfaraz’s outside edge with a nice swinging outside swing, but he flew between the keeper and the first slip.

play situation

Sarfaraz had shed that trademark cheekiness all along, but when he saw he was running out of partners he started taking some risks. He got on his knee, offered his helmet to the advancing delivery and scooped Agarwal right over the keeper to enter the 90s. He tried at least three more times, but to no avail.

Sensing the change in sentiment at Sarfaraz, MP began increasing the number of border drivers. While five of them waited, Sarfaraz attacked Kartikeya and knocked him over his head for four to set his fourth hundred of the season.

By now MP had given up trying to get Sarfaraz out. The frontier riders grew in number, from five to six to seven. Sarfaraz calmly slog-swept Kartikeya over her for six. He could have manipulated the field and batting longer had No 10 Tushar Deshpande not thrown his wicket away, leading to Sarfaraz angrily signaling that he should have batted sensibly rather than trying. Still, Mumbai kept MP on the field for 127.4 overs, riding Sarfaraz’s momentum as they came onto the field.

That should resolve in the face of solid defense and the exit of MP openers Yash Dubey and Himanshu Mantri. Although the sky remained cloudy, Dhawal Kulkarni was unable to generate as much movement and bite off the surface as the MP sailors. Deshpande’s natural length is short anyway, making it easier to defend against him when the surface is slow like it is here.

Mumbai had an extra pacesetter, Mohit Avasthi, and he looked the sharpest as he was able to clip the ball back from the outside and also straighten it in the channel to keep the batsmen on their toes. Avasthi gave away just 11 runs from his seven overs but failed to prevail.

Mumbai tried their best to distract the MP batsmen but they made no mistake and Mumbai had no threat to force one. Shams Mulani was beaten by Mantri for consecutive sixes and was otherwise easily knocked around.

While Dubey fought back, Shubham Sharma came in at number 3 and took the attack to Mumbai, fighting hard for the limits. Off-spinner Kotian only got two overs, but he managed to gain some momentum at the end of the day.

MP still needs another 252 runs to take a first innings lead and this match could have a result over five days from now, but that start will have Mumbai worried. However, thanks to Sarfaraz, they still have enough cushion to try to get things working on day three. For that, as Sarfaraz said, they have to be more disciplined than on the second afternoon.

Short scores: Mumbai 374 (Sarfaraz Khan 134, Jaiswal 78; Gaurav Yadav 4/106, Anubhav Agarwal 3/81) leads Madhya Pradesh 123/1 with 251 runs

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