Bengaluru: Rajat Patidar stamped his class with an authoritative century to put Madhya Pradesh on the cusp of their historic Ranji Trophy triumph against 41-time champions Mumbai on a rain-hit fourth day of the summit clash here on Saturday.
Havens opened up minutes before the tea break, and Madhya Pradesh finished their first innings at 536 soon after resumption with a game-changing lead of 162 runs, courtesy Patidar's superb 122, that had as many as 20 boundaries.
Four hundreds have been scored by batters from either side but none oozed more class and competence than Patidar's, who was in a league of his own when it came to regal drives on both sides of the wicket.
At stumps, Mumbai erased some of the deficit, reaching 113 for 2 with Prithvi Shaw (44 off 51 balls) and Hardik Tamore (25 off 32 balls), promoted up the order, showing some positive intent but throwing away their wickets in desperation for quick runs.
Shaw was dismissed with a classic plan of bowling wide outside the off-stump and he finally chased one from Gourav Yadav straight into cover's hands.
With 95 overs left on the final day, there is very little chance of Mumbai winning this match unless they score around 320-plus runs in 50 overs (including Saturday's overs) and set a target of 150-odd for MP with at least 45 to 50 overs to get the 10 wickets.
The wicket isn't showing any signs of crumbling and hence a chance of an MP collapse in the fourth innings doesn't look imminent at the moment. Especially, knowing that they have a first innings lead, MP will like to down the shutters from hereon as ends will prove the means.
Day belonged to Patidar
When the fourth day started, MP needed seven more runs to get the first innings lead but what was more important was for Patidar to play at least one session and he did that with minimum fuss which could now prove to be decisive in the context of the game.
Patidar smashed seven more boundaries following his 13 on the third day and by the time he was out for 122 off 219 balls, Madhya Pradesh's lead had gone over 100 runs and the sullen faces of the Mumbai players said it all.
A poker-faced Chandrakant Pandit, who had throughout the four days, sat in one corner of the dressing room, can now afford a wide grin as even a miracle can't turn things around for his home state.
Madhya Pradesh's innings lasted for exactly 14 hours and two minutes and by the end of it all, they had out-batted Mumbai, a similar kind of torture that the domestic powerhouse is used to inflicting on their opponents over the years.
Patidar first hit an on-drive off Mohit Avasthi for a boundary and then punched him through the cover-point for a couple to give MP the all-important lead.
When a player finds his bearing at a higher level, he tends to dominate at a level which is notch below. The IPL might have been a white ball competition but the kind of confidence that Patidar gained from his century against Lucknow Super Giants on May 25 IPL Eliminator came in handy. He put that to best use exactly one month later on June 25 when he got his eighth and most important hundred of his first-class career.
The cornerstone of MP's success this season has been their batting and No. 2, 3 and 4 scoring runs consistently.
While Patidar has so far scored 628 runs and is second behind Sarfaraz Khan (937) in the run-getter's list, Yash Dubey (613) and Shubham Sharma (578) have also earned their stripes with match-winning performances.
If Dubey and Sharma provided solidity, Patidar added flamboyance with his adventurous stroke-play but at the same time was judicious enough to know when he needed to defend.
Mulani, the tireless operator
Shams Mulani was disappointing for the better part of the third day when he had bowled 40 overs with a just a wicket to show for his efforts. His final figures on the day 63.2-11-173-5 might not make a pretty reading but the rotund left-arm spinner gave it his all as Shaw used him unchanged from one end till lunch.
He was better on the fourth morning as he bowled a touch slower through the air and gave the ball more flight as it dipped on some of the lower-middle order batters.
He got an able ally in Avasthi (32-7-93-2) while Tushar Deshpande (36-10-116-3) was sharp in couple of of his spells.
The delivery to clean up Patidar was an off-cutter delivered from wide of crease.
The man whose performance stood like a sore thumb was Dhawal Kulkarni (24-4-53-0), who mostly bowled innocuous deliveries on the fifth' and sixth' off-stump channel.