The Tatas pulled off a coup taking over Corus this week. Maybe they should look at Sachin Tendulkar next. There’s serious steel there. Even after almost two decades in top-level cricket.
Bengal are not made of cheap tin either. After Tendulkar and Wasim Jaffer put Mumbai in control with centuries on Day One of the Ranji Trophy final at the Wankhede Stadium here on Friday, Bengal hit back with late wickets.
A 187-run partnership for the third wicket between Tendulkar and Jaffer took Mumbai from 14/2 to 201/2. At stumps, though, they were 281 for five. Rohit Sharma and Abhishek Nair were at the crease on 9 and four, respectively. Bengal fell seven overs short of quota, bowling 83 overs.
Jaffer outscored and outlasted Tendulkar, scoring 112 over six hours and 243 balls. Despite being in the company of a legend, he left his own imprint. Whether tucking the ball to fine leg or rising on his toes to punch it through square, Jaffer was a picture of calm grace.
Yet, Tendulkar’s 105 (129b, 19x4) was the day’s highlight. Just 48 hours after sweating his way to a blazing hundred against the West Indies in Vadodara on Wednesday, the 33-year-old proved his strength and commitment with another sterling effort. What added to the excitement was that he reached the milestone with a single off the superstar on the other side — Sourav Ganguly.
Luck too gave dimpled smiles to Mumbai. Jaffer was dropped in the morning (by Manjoj Tiwary in the second slip off Ashok Dinda when on 14) and was caught behind off a Ganguly no-ball in the afternoon when on 61. Tendulkar was fortunate when a thick edge off Ranadeb Bose, Bengal’s best bowler, was a bit difficult for gully to hold on to at the start of his innings.
The tall, long-haired Bose with a Jason Gillespie run-up had chewed up opener Sahil Kukreja and surprise No. 3 Wilkin Mota to reduce Mumbai to 14 for two. Had Jaffer or Tendulkar too fallen at that stage, the 36-times champions would have been in trouble.
Bengal hearts also sank when the third umpire ruled Tendulkar not out after Manoj Tiwary claimed to have caught him at gully off Ashok Dinda. As Tiwary grabbed the ball, Bengal celebrated.
Tendulkar turned away, body language saying ‘Yeah right’. The umpire drew a TV screen in the air. “Not out,” was the verdict. Tendulkar was on 43 then, Mumbai 92/2.
By then, the boa constrictor that the Mumbai batting can be had begun to coil around and asphyxiate Bengal. The run-scoring tempo rose. The hour before lunch saw eight boundaries and 52 runs off 13 overs, faster going than during the torrid opening stage.
Hats off to Tendulkar’s endurance and motivation. Barely recovered from the exertion in Vadodara, he rode the edgy spell out and opened up to display his vast range of shots. The straight drive, the paddle sweep, strokes on either side of the wicket… Tendulkar used almost every part of the ground.
His boldest and most thrilling boundary was a result of Bengal packing the offside with seven fielders. In order to exploit the open space on the leg side, Tendulkar whipped an outside the off stump delivery from Dinda past Ganguly at mid-on.
After the third umpire turned down the Bengal appeal against Tendulkar, Dinda began to throw aggression — or to use a Mumbai expression, chakkugiri — at Tendulkar.
In the same over as the incident, he stopped the ball on the follow through and threatened to throw it back at Tendulkar’s stumps. The two exchanged a stare. Tendulkar remembers these things. In a later over, he carved the bowler for three boundaries. In all, he hit Dinda for six fours.
Bose’s two wickets took his tally for the season to 50 and made him the star of the day for Bengal. He bowled with heart and sharpness. Kukreja was his first victim, caught at second slip by Abhishek Jhunjhunwala. Mota was next, trapped leg before wicket. What’s more, Bose tested Tendulkar at the start of the master’s innings.
Bengal’s late charge was led by off-spinner Sourashish Lahiri, who sent back both the Mumbai centurions, and Ganguly, who at last struck oil by getting Mumbai captain Amol Muzumdar leg before.
Lahiri first picked up Tendulkar’s wicket, the icon going down on a knee and sweeping a catch to Laxmi Ratan Shukla near the mid-wicket boundary. Then he got Jaffer caught by Arindam Das at forward short-leg.
Bengal made one change to the team that played against Karnataka in the semifinal, Ganguly coming in for Shubhomoy Das. Mumbai surprised everyone by dropping left-arm spinner Nilesh Kulkarni, the team’s highest wicket-taker this season.
Kulkarni figured in the 12 names that Mumbai coach Pravin Amre gave HT on Thursday evening, but was left out at the last minute on Friday. Amre said it was a seaming track, which is why the team excluded Kulkarni and played an extra medium-pacer in Mota.