Ranji Trophy 2023/24: Mumbai batters set up tough target for Kerala

A dutiful accumulation by Mumbai batters on a pitch which is fast turning to be spinners’ ally left Kerala with a daunting task of chasing 327 for a win in the Ranji Trophy match at the St. Xavier’s College ground here on Sunday.

The makeshift opening pair of Jalaj Saxena (12 batting) and Rohan Kunnummal (12 batting) had answers during the short passage of play in the final session. But the final examination on Kerala’s batting abilities will be on Monday. At stumps, Kerala was 24 for no loss and still has a mountain to climb.

Saxena completed a personal milestone by taking 100 wickets at the venue and it rubbed on to his batting as he crossed double figures for the first time in this series.

Earlier, the overnight pair of Jay Bista and Bhupen Lalwani played unhurriedly and extended the opening wicket stand to 149. The hard working M.D. Nidheesh surprised Bista (73) with steep bounce and was caught behind by Sanju Samson. Bhupen (88) was upright and stroked the ball with elegance but he was castled by a ball from Shreyas Gopal which kept a tad low. Mumbai went into the lunch at 197 for two.

The pitch changed its character after lunch under the blazing sun. There was sufficient help for the spinners and Jalaj found his rhythm. He snared captain Ajinkya Rahane (13) with a delivery that bounced, forcing the batter to fend a catch to leg slip. Suved Parkar (14) and Shivam Dube (1) left in quick succession as Mumbai slumped to 226 for five.

However, tenacious batting by lower order propped up the Mumbai innings once again, leaving Kerala frustrated. P.Y. Pawar (35) and Shams Mulani (30) punished the loose deliveries to add 32 runs for the sixth wicket before Nidheesh cleaned up the former. Jalaj breached Tanush Kotian’s defence but Mohit Avasthi (32) counter-attacked and along with Mulani added 37 runs for the eighth wicket. Sachin Baby took a stunning catch at short leg to dismiss Mulani off Gopal. The leg spinner then prised out Dhawal Kulkarni (5) and had Mohit caught in the deep, slogging to end the innings for 319.

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