Out-of-form Suryakumar Yadav notched up a timely, counter-attacking hundred to steer defending champions Mumbai to 306 for seven against Maharashtra in their Ranji Trophy quarterfinal match at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Wednesday.
Coming in to bat when Mumbai were tottering at 101 for four after lunch, Yadav (120) and Vinit Indulkar (82), playing his first match for Mumbai after returning to its fold following a three-season stint with Himachal Pradesh, hit back in style to help the hosts steady the boat. Maharashtra bounced back late in the day when medium pacer Anupam Sanklecha dismissed both the batsmen, while Samad Fallah took the wicket of Shardul Thakur (4).
At stumps, Iqbal Abdulla (9 not out) and captain Zaheer Khan (5 not out) were at the crease. The visitors had the 40-time champions on the rack after winning the toss, but they let the game slip away when Yadav, who batted for 209 minutes and faced 139 balls while hitting 18 fours, attacked the bowling. Indulkar also chipped in with important runs as he played the supporting role. The 23-year-old Yadav compiled his first ton in 15 matches and after a gap of over two years, his last coming in December 2011. He hit 17 fours in 115 balls when he reached the milestone, his fourth first-class century and third in the championship for Mumbai.
The two batsmen added 183 runs in 261 balls for the fifth wicket to wrest back the initiative before Maharashtra hit back in the last half an hour. Sanklecha got rid of the obdurate Indulkar late in the day when he edged behind after a stay of 252 minutes in which he struck 13 fours off 164 balls. He then struck another blow with the second new ball by packing off Yadav through a catch to second slip.
At the other end, Fallah grabbed the wicket of Thakur to see that Maharashtra ended the day on a happier note. Medium pacers Fallah and Sanklecha grabbed three wickets each, while first change Shrikant Mundhe took the other wicket to fall. Spinners Akshay Darekar and Chirag Khurana were unlucky not to pick up a wicket each after chances were missed by their captain and wicketkeeper Rohit Motwani off their bowling. Mumbai began briskly, after being put in to bat, against some poor bowling by Maharashtra's new ball bowlers Fallah and Sanklecha who aimed at the batsmen's pads for openers Wasim Jaffer and Pawar to pick up easy runs.
But once the visiting team's medium pacers improved their line, Mumbai were pushed to the back foot and Maharashtra reaped rewards by dismissals of Pawar (19) and Aditya Tare (3).
Pawar was caught behind off left armer Fallah, chasing a ball that moved a bit and Tare, strangely subdued, flicked at a full-pitched ball straight to mid-on off Sanklecha. These two strikes left the hosts at 55 for two and Maharashtra struck another big blow by sending back Mumbai's batting mainstay Jaffer for 42 at the stroke of lunch.
Jaffer, who batted in his usual fashion by blocking good balls and pouncing on the loose ones, tried to clear mid-on fielder with a pull shot, but fielder Ankit Bawne timed his jump to perfection to latch onto the ball. The opener batted for 149 minutes and struck eight fours in 98 balls. Mumbai went in for lunch at 92 for three. They lost another wicket in Abhishek Nayar who, back after his injury-induced absence, survived only 10 balls before edging Fallah to the slip cordon.
This brought Indulkar to the crease, who last played for Mumbai in 2010 before plying his trade in Himachal Pradesh, only to return after a three-season stint and then had a cooling off period for one year in local cricket in Mumbai. Indulkar and Yadav got together to do the rescue act. While Indulkar played cautiously, Yadav -- not in the best of form this season with only two scores of 60-plus to show for earlier -- was his usual, aggressive self and it paid off well as the track slowly eased out after the morning freshness.
The fifth wicket pair stitched the innings-rescuing century stand, though Yadav survived an easy stumping chance off left-arm spinner Darekar soon after reaching his 50 off 62 balls. Motwani failed to gather the ball with Yadav down the track and the missed chance cost Maharashtra dearly as the fifth wicket duo took Mumbai to 176 for four at tea.
Indulkar (63) was let off by Kedar Jadhav at slip when he cut off spinner Khurana off the back foot in the bowler's second over soon after tea, the ball grazing Motwani's glove before reaching the slip fielder. These were costly errors against a team that is known to dig its way out of a deep hole. And Mumbai did just that.
Yadav, who was under pressure to perform after a poor season, later said it felt good to get a century in the knock out phase.
"It felt very good to score a century in the knock out round. It could have been better. We (he and Indulkar) were thinking of getting to 300 (without being separated) at the end of the day. I and Vinit were discussing batting the whole day," he said, after the day's play.
"We did not expect to lose wickets to the second new ball. The wicket is helpful to the fast bowlers who hit the right areas," he said. Sanklecha, who brought Maharashtra back into the game at the fag end by dismissing Yadav and Indulkar, said the Wankhede was a good hunting ground for him. "This is my favourite stadium and it felt good to bowl here. We did well in the first session and came back well in the last. Credit goes to them (Yadav and Indulkar) for the way they batted," he added.