New Delhi: In the end, it took only 34.4 overs and 160 minutes on the sixth day of play for Mumbai to impose themselves on the game and reach the final of the Ranji Trophy for the 44th time in their glittering history. Services, who had showed much fight on the fifth day to take the game into a sixth, lost their two pillars, Yashpal Singh and Soumya Ranjan Swain early in the piece, and from there on there was no denying Mumbai.
The equation for Mumbai was straightforward when the final day began: they needed seven wickets before Services came close to the first-innings target of 454. For Services, runs were at a premium, but more crucial was survival, as even an incomplete game would give them a chance to go through by a coin toss. In the end this was purely academic.
Shardul Thakur, the bustling medium pacer, provided the crucial breakthrough in his fourth over of the morning, when Yashpal was drawn into prodding at a delivery he could just as easily have left alone. Having cracked Thakur straight to the cover fielder earlier in the over, Yashpal might have felt he had missed out on a scoring opportunity, and played at a good-length ball that did just enough to beat the middle of the bat and take the outside edge. Yashpal had made 58 in a partnership of 114, but even as he walked off the ground, cursing himself, Mumbai had their tail up.
Swain tried to overlook the departure of Services' most experienced and solid batsman, smacking a couple of delightful boundaries against the left-arm spin of Vishal Dabholkar, but the arrival of the second new ball, taken after 83 overs of the innings were complete, gave the bowlers a bit more to work with. Drawn forward, Swain was committed to the shot against Dabholkar when a bit of extra bounce defeated his defensive stroke, resulting in a simple catch to Wasim Jaffer at slip. At 195 for five, Services found that both options - scoring runs and merely surviving - were fast closing down.
Sarabjit Singh and Rajat Paliwal the last two recognised batsmen, made sure that Mumbai had to fight for their wickets, but when Dhaval Kulkarni induced an edge that sent the ball crashing into the stumps, Paliwal had to go. Kulkarni wasted little time in wrapping up the tail, and with play being extended ahead of the lunch break, Ajit Agarkar, the Mumbai captain, heaved a sigh of relief when the Services innings was wrapped up on 240.
Agarkar, who topscored for Mumbai with 145, was named the Man of the Match, but he reserved the highest praise for Thakur and Kulkarni. "Shardul and Dhaval bowled their hearts out," said Agarkar. "If you look at it, this pitch just got better and better for batting. After we lost two days because of rain, the pitch was rolled so much that it was like batting on a first-day pitch. We just wanted to get past 400 and also see how the pitch was playing because it had become different."
Agarkar said the Mumbai team were not overly worried about all the time lost in the game, but did not want the result to be decided by the toss of coin.
"You don't want it to end that way. We were hoping to get 100-120 overs to bowl at Services but we were lucky to get more than that," said Agarkar. "The wicket became better to bat on, there was no natural wear and tear. It was hard work and we're very happy to get the result. When you play over five days you always back yourself to get a result, even if you've fallen behind on the first innings. Even yesterday they were beaten a few times towards the end of the day. We knew it was a matter of getting the breakthrough and then things would be different. It was a question of bowling seven good balls today."
BCCI release: The final will be telecast live. K. Hariharan and O. Nandan will be the field umpires. Virender Sharma will be the third umpire. Col. Chinmaya Sharma will be the Match Referee.