Unheralded Ramaswamy Prasanna scored his first century in five years before skipper Laxmipathy Balaji bowled a fiery opening spell to rip apart Mumbai's top-order and give Tamil Nadu command of their Ranji Trophy semi-final at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai on Wednesday.
At stumps on the second day, Mumbai were tottering at 121 for 6 in reply to Tamil Nadu's healthy first innings of 359, with only one specialist batsman left in Hiken Shah. Dhawal Kulkarni is other not-out batsman.
The left-handed Shah was unbeaten on 21 after a stay of 83 minutes while Kulkarni was not out on 5 as 39-time national champions Mumbai still need 89 runs more to avoid the follow-on.
When Mumbai began their reply, India discard Balaji blasted out openers Kaustubh Pawar (1), Onkar Gurav (2).
Mumbai captain Wasim Jaffer (0) was out due to a dubious decision -- in the space of six balls, reducing the home team to 14 for 3.
Balaji's superb first spell figures read 7-4-11-3.
The hosts recovered partially through their men in-form, Abhishek Nayar (17) and highest scorer Suryakumar Yadav (52, 57 balls, 8x4), before losing both, as well as last match centurion Ankit Chavan (10) before crossing the 100-run-mark.
On Thursday, Shah, has the big responsibility of lifting the hosts from the brink, like Prasanna did for Tamil Nadu when they were struggling at 139 for 6 soon after lunch on the opening day.
Prasanna, who was unbeaten on 81 after guiding Tamil Nadu through troubled waters on Tuesday, in the company of Vijaykumar Yomahesh (67), departed after scoring 104, his first ton since scoring 134 against Uttar Pradesh in December, 2006. The duo added 152 runs for the seventh wicket.
Prasanna was bowled through the gate in the 16th over of the day by Nayar. The 29-year-old struck 17 fours in his 375-ball innings. It was Prasanna's third first-class century.
Starting the day at 250 for 6, Tamil Nadu continued their fightback, with Balaji joining the battle.
Yomahesh, who batted dourly for 363 minutes, hit two sixes and four fours in his 259-ball essay and was last out, giving Balwinder Singh Sandhu his second five-wicket haul of the season.
He put on another very handy 42 runs with Balaji (24) for the eighth wicket.
The last four wickets added a staggering 220 runs for Tamil Nadu.
Surprisingly, Mumbai captain Jaffer did not employ attacking fields when Yomahesh and Prasanna were together against the second new ball which was only eight overs old in the morning.
Medium pacer Kshemal Waingankar was also under-utilised and brought on only after an hour's play. He bagged one wicket while off-spinner Ramesh Powar, who was also used sparingly, got a wicket off his second ball of the morning, the last over before lunch.
Sandhu ended up with impressive figures of five for 88, Kulkarni got 2 for 91 while Waingankar, Nayar and Powar got the remaining wickets.
Mumbai began their reply midway through the second session and were immediately rocked back on the back foot by Balaji, who fired out Pawar and Gurav through catches behind the stumps and earned a leg before appeal off a big inside edge against Jaffer from umpire K Hariharan.
Balaji had Pawar, who hit a century in the previous game against MP at Indore, edging to 'keeper Dinesh Karthik with a fine outgoing delivery off the last ball of his third over to reduce Mumbai to 8 for 1.
Off the first ball of his next over, the lanky Balaji deceived the diminutive Gurav in similar fashion to induce an edge to first slip fielder Murali Vijay and be on a hat-trick that was denied to him by Jaffer.
But the home team captain fell four balls later to Balaji with umpire Hariharan declaring the one-down batsman out leg before even as gully fielder Prasanna dived fully length in front to attempt the bat-pad catch.
Reeling at 14 for 3, Nayar and Yadav initially batted calmly to weather the storm before the latter opened out to play his shots and raced to his half century in only 51 balls.
But Nayar departed by then to a poor shot, a top-edged sweep shot off the second ball bowled by left arm spinner R Aushik Srinivas that was coolly taken by K Vasudevadas stationed at first slip.
As the ball ballooned up, Vasudevadas came behind wicketkeeper Karthik to complete the formality.
Yadav looked in good touch but was set up beautifully by Yomahesh, who attacked him with short rising balls from round the wicket before slipping in a wide out-swinger that the batsman attempted to drive and nick a catch to stumper Karthik.
Fifteen runs later Chavan too was consumed when Jagannathan Kaushik came back for his second spell and induced an edge from the left-hander for Vijay to pouch it in the slip cordon to leave Mumbai at a sorry 98 for 6.
Shah and Kulkarni then staved off the rampaging Tamil Nadu bowlers till stumps while adding 23 runs for the unbroken seventh wicket.
Balaji ended the day with 3 for 16 in two spells, while Kaushik, Yomahesh and Srinivas had a wicket apiece.
Tamil Nadu (1st innings): (overnight 250 for 6):
A Mukund b Kulkarni 4
M Vijay c Gurav b Kulkarni 47
S Badrinath b Sandhu 56
Dinesh Karthik lbw b Sandhu 0
K Vasudevadas c Gurav b Sandhu 14
R Prasanna b Nayar 104
Sunny Gupta c Shah b Sandhu 12
VY Mahesh lbw b Waingankar 67
L Balaji c Jaffer b Powar 24
J Kaushik c Shah b Sandhu 12
R Aushik Srinivas not out 5
Extras: (B-5, LB-5, W-2, NB-2) 14
Total: (all out in 136.1 overs) 359
Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-107, 3-107, 4-107, 5-125, 6-139, 7-291, 8-333, 9-342.
Bowling: Kulkarni 41-16-91-2, Sandhu 26.1-6-88-5, Waingankar 27-8-54-1, Nayar 12-2-46-1, Powar 13-1-35-1, Chavan 15-3-34-0, Yadav 2-1-1-0.
Mumbai (1st innings):
K Pawar c Karthik b Balaji 1
O Gurav c Vijay b Balaji 2
A Nayar c Vasudevadas b Aushik Srinivas 17
W Jaffer lbw b Balaji 0
S Yadav c Karthik b Mahesh 52
H Shah not out 21
A Chavan c Vijay b Kaushik 10
D Kulkarni not out 5
Extras: (B-1, LB-5, W-2, NB-5) 13
Total: (For 6 wickets in 38 overs) 121
Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-14, 3-14, 4-61, 5-83, 6-98.
Bowling: L Balaji 9-4-16-3, J Kaushik 10-2-33-1, Y Mahesh 10-2-43-1, R Aushik Srinivas 8-2-18-1, Sunny Gupta 1-0-5-0.