Aditya Tare, the Mumbai captain, had plenty to ponder on a day in which overtook his own record of most dismissals, 50, in a season. After his batsmen were in a tearing hurry to raze Gujarat on a surface that demanded patience, his bowlers nearly handed the advantage by allowing Parthiv Patel (90) and Manprit Juneja (77) to counter-attack and put them on the back foot. Then they struck thrice in quick succession to end a day neither side could entirely claim their own.
It was almost as if both sides challenged the other to capitalise on openings. Mumbai dropped chances - only time will tell if Shreyas Iyer's reprieve of Manprit Juneja on 15 would be crucial - and the bowlers conceded 130 runs in the second session. Then, there was the frustration of having to contend with a couple of umpiring decisions, before they had one in their favour, also because of an error. Juneja was caught on the pull but replays showed Shardul Thakur had overstepped. Then right at the close, Tare fluffed a regulation chance to dismiss Chirag Gandhi.
"There were opportunities that we had but unfortunately we didn't convert," Tare said. "Otherwise it would have been a different story. And we bowled a no-ball where we got a wicket, an important one but you have to accept it, it is going to happen.They built up a very fast partnership. Within no time, they put on almost 100 runs. That really affected us. But, obviously we are happy to have both of them out."
If Mumbai were still alive despite all this, it was because of Abhishek Nayar's persistence. The veteran's intensity and rhythm stood out. He clocked in spells of seven, ten and seven overs, the reward being the wickets of Priyank Panchal, Bhargav Merai and Parthiv. At no stage could the batsmen relax, not even when Parthiv and Juneja were reeling off runs in boundaries in the middle session.
"He is phenomenal. I used to think no one is indispensable but in terms of Abhishek Nayar, I dare not say that. He is incredible, his character is outstanding," Tare said. "The way he works hard for the team is phenomenal. I am so proud to have him in my squad. He is a terrific guy to have in the team. He bowls his heart out, he bats his heart out for the team. An absolutely genius fellow."
The pressure built up by Nayar at one end was released at the other. After nearly bowling through the opening session, Thakur appeared to be tiring. Vijay Gohil, the left-arm spinner, was easily being picked away for runs. Tare's use of Vishal Dabholkar, another left-arm spinner who was specifically brought in for this game, was surprising. When he finally came on in the 54th over, Parthiv and Juneja appeared set. It elicited questions of whether Tare and the Mumbai team management had misread the surface and were better off playing an extra seamer. Tare didn't think so.
"Look its red soil, you never know on the fifth day," Tare countered. "We hope that on the fifth day, the ball starts spinning. I feel there will be turn and bounce. That's why we went in with two left-arm spinners. Today, I thought there was help for the pacers throughout the day and I wanted them to bowl before the target [Mumbai's total] was achieved. It was important that they get to bowl a lot of overs, and that's what the plan was."
Despite having to do all the running, Tare was confident of a comeback and didn't flinch when it was asked to him if at any stage they felt the pressure. "It is still open. Three more days to go and obviously I thought we did play pretty well in the first session and the last session," he said. "We leaked up a few more runs in the second session but otherwise had we taken the opportunities that we got, it would have been a different story but nevertheless, it happens in the game of cricket and we have to accept it. I feel the game is pretty open and we will bounce back, I am pretty sure about it."