Sachin Tendulkar warmed up for his farewell series against the West Indies next month with a gritty unbeaten half-century to keep Mumbai's chances alive in their Ranji Trophy match against a spirited Haryana in Lahli, Haryana, on Tuesday.
Playing his last Ranji Trophy innings, Tendulkar was unbeaten on 55 at stumps on the third day, with Mumbai, set a target of 240, needing another 39 runs to win, with four wickets in hand.
The 40-time defending champions were 201 for six at close of play, with Dhawal Kulkarni, on six, giving Tendulkar company.
Resuming on 224 for 9, Haryana were dismissed for 241 earlier in the day.
After that Tendulkar held centrestage as he showed signs of returning to form, much to the delight of the packed crowd that had been looking forward to his arrival at the crease with bated breath.
The champion batsman, who will walk into sunset after playing his landmark 200th Test against the West Indies next month, decorated his innings with four hits to the fence while facing 122 balls.
One shot that brought back memories of his days of yore was a cracker of a cover drive Tendulkar produced off pacer Ashish Hooda.
Chants of 'Sachin, Sachin' were heard almost all day long and he obliged his fans in this sleepy village by recording his 115th first-class fifty.
Tendulkar, who was dismissed for five in the first innings, got to his 50 when he flicked Joginder Sharma for two through the vacant square leg region, bringing the crowd to their feet.
The 40-year-old was concentration personified as he looked to bail Mumbai out of a difficult situation with his experience.
He was far from being his aggressive best, but on this tricky track at the Chaudhary Bansi Lal Stadium, patience was the order of the day and Tendulkar showed that in abundance.
In the morning, Mumbai took less than three overs to dismiss Harshal Patel and bring to an end Haryana's second innings. Before holing out to Dhawal Kulkarni off his own bowling, Patel had smashed his way to 33 invaluable runs that helped in swelling the hosts' lead.
Patel had started from where he left off on Monday evening, hitting a Kulkarni delivery straight over his head and into the sightscreen for a maximum. The six was followed by a four, but while going one for one too many, he got out in the next ball. But the bowler, by then, had done more than his share with the willow.
Mumbai's chase started on a disastrous note as they lost Ranji Trophy's most prolific scorer, Wasim Jaffer, in the second over as he played away from his body and edged an out-swinger to wicketkeeper Nitin Saini.
An 86-run partnership ensued for the second wicket between Ajinkya Rahane and Kaustabh Pawar. Mumbai's top-scorer in the first innings, Rahane contributed 40 this time around, and his knock included four hits to fence before he was shown the door by off-spinner Jayant Yadav who bowled the batsman with a ball that did not turn as much as his previous delivery.
Rahane's departure, with Mumbai at 87 for two, once again brought the packed crowd to its feet as it signalled the arrival of Tendulkar into the crease. Around 6000 spectators had since morning trooped into the Chaudhary Bansi Lal Stadium, hoping to see their favourite cricketer produce a special knock.
Beginning his innings with a single to long-on, Tendulkar soon whipped off his pads a length delivery, drifting on his pads, to the fine leg fence. The bowler was Mohit Sharma, who bowled the master cheaply in the first innings to ensure Lahli's crowd dispersed in a jiffy.
Image: Sachin Tendulkar