Mumbai: Tamil Nadu entered the Ranji Trophy final for the eleventh time by virtue of having taken the first-innings lead over Mumbai in the semi-final that ended in a draw at the Wankhede Stadium on Friday.
The visitors, who led the home team by 202 runs in the first innings, piled on the agony on their long-time nemesis by notching up 331 for eight before declaring the second innings in the pre-lunch session.
Left with the improbable victory target of 534 in 44 overs, 39-time winners Mumbai made 88 for three in 29 overs before the match was called off by mutual consent.
With this, Tamil Nadu, who recorded their third straight success over Mumbai in as many seasons, advanced to the five-day final against defending champions Rajasthan (who had ousted them in the semis in 2010-11), to be held in Chennai from January 19.
Tamil Nadu have won the crown twice and finished runners-up on eight occasions while Rajasthan, who defeated Haryana in the other semi-final, grabbed the title for the first time when they beat Baroda in the final last season.
The last day's proceedings were bereft of any competitive interest after Tamil Nadu had bowled out Mumbai, who had got the better of them in 18 of 22 previous clashes, for a meagre 157 on Thursday in reply to their own first-innings tally of 359. They then made 220 for four in the second innings by stumps to lead by 422 runs.
The visitors continued to grind the Mumbai bowlers on Friday morning after Murali Vijay, 103 overnight, resumed with first-innings centurion Ramaswamy Prasanna, who was declared the Man of the Match.
Vijay eventually departed for 142, caught in the slip cordon off medium pacer Balwinder Sandhu, who went on to claim five wickets in the innings for a memorable match haul of 10 for 162. The Tamil Nadu opener batted for over six hours while facing 250 balls and struck 21 fours and two sixes.
Tamil Nadu batted on and lost three more wickets before skipper Laxmipathy Balaji declared the innings when he was caught and bowled by Sandhu to give the youngster, playing in only his third Ranji tie, his first ten-wicket haul.
Sandhu had taken five for 88 in Tamil Nadu's first innings and five for 72 in the second.
Mumbai lost their opener Kaustubh Pawar for a duck in the second essay, when he edged medium pacer Jagannanthan Kaushik to the slip cordon in the third over.
The hosts also lost their batting mainstays of the season Abhishek Nayar (22) and Suryakumar Yadav (33), before Hiken Shah (29 not out) and Ankit Chavan (1) prevented further loss before the match was called off.
Tamil Nadu skipper Balaji later praised his team's performance and said the key to their success lay in coming back from difficult situations, as they did from 139 for six in the first innings.
"It's a very good win. The first-innings lead is always important when you play against Mumbai. We accepted the challenges thrown at us and came through them. I was always confident we would recover."
"Prasanna (who scored 104) and Yomi (Yo Mahesh who made 67) batted very well and the lower order clicked in the first innings. We were in similar situations in the league stages also," he said.
Prasanna and Yo Mahesh put on 152 runs to put Tamil Nadu in a good position and the last four wickets added 220 runs to post a challenging first-innings score.
Balaji said when he took over as the team captain this season he was interested in guiding the bowling attack, which was inexperienced, while the batting line-up was strong.
"Over the last 25-30 years, we have had good batsmen. The team has a batting unit in which each batsman has scored in around 50 first-class games. But the bowling unit was inexperienced this season and I decided to guide it. We bowled as a unit, hunted in packs," the former India pacer said.
Balaji led the charge with a three-wicket burst in his first spell that put Mumbai on the back-foot.
Looking ahead to the final at home, Balaji was not worried that Tamil Nadu had lost to Rajasthan last season.
"The past is gone, we are making a fresh beginning. As long as our players put in 100 percent effort and play as a team, we should be happy," he said.
At Mumbai: Tamil Nadu 359 in 136.1 overs and 331/8 in 113.1 overs (Murali Vijay 142, Ramaswammy Prasanna 44; Balwinder Sandhu 5-74, Kshemal Waingankar 2-43) vs Mumbai 157 in 51 overs and 88/3 in 29 overs (Suryakumar Yadav 33, Hiken Shah not out 29; Jagannathan Kaushik 2-6)
Result: Match drawn (Tamil Nadu progress based on first-innings lead)