Swiveling his rather bulky frame a whole circle,and not without flair,Murali Vijay hurried left-arm seamer Samad Fallahs leg-stump yorker gently past the keeper for a boundary. It wasnt a flick or a sweep,the traditional shots played for this result. Vijay had somehow managed to drive the ball through the inverse V between third man and fine leg,like a golf putt. It was a shot of a man in ethereal touch and no one was happier than his partner,standing a pitch-length away,Abhinav Mukund.
The Chennai crowd did not have to wait too long into Day Two of the quarterfinal clash against Maharashtra to see the pair in action. Jagannathan Kaushik,with his maiden five-for,set the tone for the home side early in the day,as Maharashtra lost six wickets for just 28 runs in the first session of the day. From 204 for four overnight,the visitors were bowled out for 232 and the openers,who could well have faced a gruelling day in the field,found themselves out in the middle with their pads on.
Ever since Mukund replaced Vijay in Test cricket,the Tamil Nadu openers seemed to have forgotten the art of stitching partnerships together at the domestic level. It was no fault of Mukunds of course,for this Ranji season has been his masterpiece,with two double hundreds,a ninety and an eighty to show for his efforts,before this innings. The primary reason for TNs wobbly beginnings was simple Vijays form.
With almost arithmetic regressive scores of 42,33,14,10,13,9* and 0 during the initial part of this Ranji campaign,Vijay couldnt possibly have gotten any worse or out of touch. So if two scratchy fifties in the group stages began the process of healing,the 27-year olds flawless 79 today may be the final cure to a poor run that has severely cost TN its stability at the top.
On Tuesday,Mukund added 95 more runs to his run tally,and was unfortunate to be dismissed just short of another triple figure score. But he seemed more than happy about the resurgence of his partner in crime,with whom he recorded the season-high partnership of 173 runs one that lasted a good chunk of the second day of this quarterfinal match,which began on an even keel and ended with TN in cruise control. Helping the home side take the first innings lead (27 runs at stumps) faster than they would have thought possible at the MA Chidambaram Stadium,Vijay caressed his way back into form,while Mukund bludgeoned through the cream of the Maharashtra attack with limited-over strokes.
Such scenes of carnage are better depicted in comic books. Any graphic novel artist will tell you the difference between a biff and a crack is the way the acoustic is produced. A biff is a sound produced with an immense amount of power,usually with a sense of urgency like during a counter-attacking punch. Mukund biffed and biffed till he could biff no more,bringing up both his first boundary in the third over through midwicket and his fifty of the 94th ball he faced over square leg with this Flash Gordon theme sound.
On the other hand,a crack is clean and non-jarring,executed in a single motion completely independent of resistance. The ball bowled by Maharashtras military medium opening pacer Domnic Joseph could have been many yards slower or faster than it really was,still the sound produced would have been as cracking as when Vijay strolled off the mark with a picture perfect cover drive.
The shot of the day too belonged to Vijay,when he picked Akshay Darekars wrong un from outside leg and walloped it inside out through extra covers to notch only his third fifty of the campaign. But it was the most important of the lot because of the occasion and the fact that it one arrived during a partnership with his buddy Mukund.
BRIEF SCORES: Maharashtra 232 (Harshad Khadiwale 61,SD Atitkar 50,Chirag Khurana 44,Jagannathan Kaushik five for 56,Aushik Srinivas two for 64) vs. Tamil Nadu 259/3 in 83 overs (Abhinav Mukund 95,Murali Vijay 79,S Badrinath batting 35,Samad Fallah one for 44)