The last time Sachin Tendulkar played first-class cricket in Mumbai, his team fell to arguably its worst defeat in Test cricket.
The last time Wasim Jaffer played in Mumbai, he scored a hundred to get his side three points but had to leave midway to tend to his father who had suffered a heart attack. Yesterday in Mumbai, albeit against a limited Baroda attack, normal services resumed as the two scored centuries to take Mumbai to a position of strength in the Ranji Trophy quarter-final.
This was Jaffer’s 31st Ranji century, which takes him level with Ajay Sharma as the highest centurions in Ranji Trophy. Jaffer is now just 44 short of reclaiming his record of most runs in Ranji Trophy, which he lost to Andhra’s Amol Muzumdar in the first half of the tournament. Tendulkar, too, took a step towards records. This was his 80th first-class hundred, just one behind Sunil Gavaskar’s Indian record of 81. Also, with 18 centuries in this competition, he is two behind Gavaskar’s 20.
The two came together with Mumbai 35 for 2 after choosing to bat first. Jaffer had already survived an lbw decision when South African umpire Adrian Holdstock—part of umpires exchange programme—reprieved him off an inswinger from left-arm quick Gagandeep Singh. Tendulkar squashed all nerves by batting with intent, and racing away to 23 off 32 without taking any risks. A straight drive between the stumps and the non-striker stood out.
Tendulkar now settled in for a big innings, and Jaffer began to look comfortable. It was a slow pitch, and scoring was not easy, which showed in how Tendulkar once ended up dragging a lofted shot to cow corner while he intended to hit it straight down the ground. He stopped taking risks then. Jaffer, who cut one wide of Yusuf Pathan at first slip just after lunch, began to score more freely with some beautiful flicks through wide mid-on and midwicket. The two were complimenting each other again.
No wicket fell in the middle session as Mumbai went from 77 for 2 at lunch to 193 for 2 at tea. Tendulkar’s strike rate had dropped to around 50, but Jaffer’s had risen to about a run every two balls. Jaffer began the final session not out on 92, and soon made his only mistake of the day after an uncertain start. As he edged a cut off Gagandeep to slip, Baroda’s captain, Yusuf, couldn’t hold on to a fairly simple chance. Jaffer then went on to bring up his century with an exquisite cover-drive off the same bowler.
Tendulkar wasn’t far behind, and brought his three figures up with a nudge fine of long leg and scampering for two. A spectator, a middle-aged man, charged onto the field, and embarrassed Tendulkar by insisting to touch his feet in reverence. You could see Tendulkar wasn’t comfortable with the notion, but it seemed he had no choice.
Murtuja Vahora, Baroda’s spirited right-arm fast bowler, finally broke through Tendulkar’s defence with a beauty that swung prodigiously in to sneak through the small gap between bat and pad even as Tendulkar strode forward. The off stump went cartwheeling, and Vahora was overjoyed. Jaffer, though, had become even more fluent, ending unbeaten on 137. Nightwatchman Dhawal Kulkarni did his job with an unbeaten 0 off 15 balls.