Nair, Wadkar fifties stretch Vidarbha’s fight into last day against Mumbai’s spinners

Vidarbha 105 and 248 for 5 (Nair 74, Wadkar 56*, Musheer 2-38, Kotian 2-56) need another 290 runs to beat Mumbai 224 and 418

Mumbai remained in the driver’s seat to lift their 42nd Ranji Trophy title, but Vidarbha’s batters resisted on a slow-moving fourth day. Karun Nair and Vidarbha captain Akshay Wadkar were the two main obstructions that delayed Mumbai’s push for a win, although Nair’s dismissal late in the day for 74 left one end of Vidarbha’s batting exposed. Two-time champions Vidarbha finished the day on 248 for 5, still 290 runs away from the 538 target.

Vidarbha’s slow and careful batting meant Mumbai had to work hard for their five wickets, all of which fell to spin. It was apparent early in the day that even though Vidarbha had conceded a first-innings lead – a decisive factor if the game ends in a draw – they did not want to lose outright, at least on the penultimate day of the final. Their batters attempted to play the long game, scoring only 238 runs in 90 overs on the day at a run rate of 2.64.

Mumbai’s three spinners bowled the bulk of the overs with the surface offering plenty of turn. They tried to use the rough on either side of the stumps and found purchase and uneven bounce. Mumbai earned their first wicket when Shams Mulani‘s left-arm orthodox spin got rid of Atharva Taide (32) lbw after the first drinks break of the morning in the 19th over. Two balls later, offspinner Tanush Kotian had Dhruv Shorey (28) driving down the wrong line and pegged his off stump back to send them sliding from 62 for 0 to 64 for 2.
After lunch, Mumbai captain Ajinkya Rahane went to Musheer Khan for his left-arm orthodox spin, and the 19-year-old got ample bounce and turn with his high-arm release. But a quicker, skiddy delivery from Musheer accounted for the No. 3 Aman Mokhade (32) when he was deemed lbw. Yash Rathod then aimed to dead-bat after the third wicket, but his 39-ball vigil ended on 7 when Kotian darted one in and trapped the left-hand batter inside his crease, and then convinced his captain to use a review successfully.

With the score at 133 for 4, and almost half the day’s play remaining, the onus was on Vidarbha’s two most experienced batters, Nair and Wadkar. Nair had walked out in the 20th over and played ultra defensively through the day. Against the spinners, he lunged forward often to defend, and also looked comfortable on the back foot.

The occasional unsuccessful reverse sweep aside, Nair reined in his shots all day. He also survived a few gloved defensive shots that went over the close-in fielders wearing the helmet and an lbw decision on umpire’s call. He was eventually out seven overs into the second new ball when Musheer got one to zip across and kiss Nair’s outside edge on the way to the wicketkeeper. Nair struck only three fours in his 240-ball innings.

Wadkar, on the other hand, displayed controlled aggression to finish on an unbeaten 91-ball 56 at stumps. He started his innings with two fours in his first six balls and played shots more on the merit of the deliveries. Wadkar used the depth of the crease well to pull through the leg side when the tired spinners landed balls short. After Nair fell, Wadkar reached his 18th first-class fifty in style by slapping Tushar Deshpande for six over backward point and ensured he would return on the final day alongside the No. 7 Harsh Dubey who showed glimpses of his aggressive style by smacking a six to long-on minutes before stumps.

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