At the fag end of the penultimate day of the Ranji Trophy semifinal against Mumbai, Tamil Nadu opener Murali Vijay danced down the wicket against left-arm spinner Ankeet Chavan and cleared mid-on. Even before the ball crossed the boundary line on the bounce, he raised his bat towards the dressing room, ecstatic and relieved.
The relief was for finally getting to three figures this season after throwing away umpteen good starts. Vijay's knock has all but ensured that former champions Tamil Nadu will face holders Rajasthan in next week's grand finale. The sensible century by the 27-year-old, who lost his India place after last year's West Indies tour, has practically made sure Mumbai will not add to their tally of 39 Ranji titles this season.
Tamil Nadu succeeded in terminating Mumbai's first innings for a paltry 157, establishing a 202-run first innings lead. The visitors' lead stood at 422 with six second innings wickets in hand.
Vijay's (103 no) knock could be construed as one of the many meaningless second innings centuries in Ranji Trophy, with the fate of the match having been sealed on the basis of the first innings lead.
But that wasn't really the case at the Wankhede Stadium on Thursday, if one took the contrasting reputations of the teams. Mumbai are renowned for their miraculous comebacks over the 77-year history of the premier domestic championship while Tamil Nadu have been perennial chokers.
Any wonder then that despite Tamil Nadu having extended their overall lead to 330-plus, the match wasn't over when Mumbai struck back-to-back blows just before tea. Chavan broke through Subramaniam Badrinath's defence and Balwinder Singh Sandhu shattered Dinesh Karthik's stumps in the next over with one that came in sharply.
But Vijay, along with K Vasudevadas, switched gears and avoided his trademark audacious drives. As a result, by the time Vasudevadas mistimed a pull shot to Suryakumar Yadav wide of mid-on, Mumbai had accepted their fate.
With the visitors having established a huge lead, the last day's play would be nothing but piling on the misery on Mumbai. Tamil Nadu will use it as early preparations for the final, starting in Chennai on January 19.
Mumbai cricketers would be wondering about what lies ahead after a season that would be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Tamil Nadu 359 and 220/4 (M Vijay 103*, K Vasudevadas 36) vs Mumbai 157