Showstopper Sharma

It was a scene straight out of gully cricket: a batsman bludgeoning the ball out of the playing zone and a fielder having to scavenge for it, leaving the remaining players on their haunches, waiting endlessly for play to recommence.

Only that this was a Ranji Trophy contest between Mumbai and Punjab, and the batsman in question was Rohit Sharma. And Mumbai's batting mainstay had just hooked a short-pitched delivery from Siddharth Kaul over square-leg into the Sunil Gavaskar stand. In the most audacious and dismissive of fashions.

It took Punjab's Jiwanjot Singh close to 10 minutes to retrieve the ball from underneath the empty seats and throw it back into play. The unexpected interlude allowed the Punjab fielders time for a breather and also catch their breath - despite having just returned from an intermission. They could have been excused for not having been in a hurry for the ball to return. It was that kind of day.

This was the second over after the tea-break. Sharma was already well-past his century. Mumbai were in command. After having endured two days of agony at the hands of the Punjab batsmen. On Monday, the hosts decided to return the favour at the Wankhede Stadium. This was the visitors' turn to fret and look despondent.

If Mandeep Singh had done a star-turn for Punjab, the third day's play almost entirely belonged to Sharma. And as always, the graceful right-hander held court majestically.

Punjab had piled on 580 in their first innings over the first two days of the match. And on Day Three, Mumbai responded in kind, taking their score by stumps to 364/3, with Sharma remaining unbeaten on a power-packed 163 with Hiken Shah for company at 54 not out.

Eloquent best

The scores so far are a fair indicator of the state and nature of the Wankhede wicket. They might also represent a dreary affair of willow relentlessly beating leather into a pulp. But there can be nothing tedious about watching Sharma at his eloquent best with the bat. It would be akin to saying a Beethoven symphony couldn't captivate the senses just because the stage wasn't grand enough.

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