The Maharashtra score read 210/2. Both Kedar Jadhav and Vijay Zol were well past the half-century mark. They were also in complete command of proceedings, their partnership now galloping towards the 200-run mark and already having reached match-winning proportions. They had hung on grimly in the first session. Since the lunch-break though, the Maharashtra duo had turned the screws on the Mumbai bowlers.
Throughout this time, say a period of 100 minutes, Zaheer Khan had stood helpless and emotionless, his eyes shielded by the flashy green-rimmed shades. To his credit, the Mumbai skipper had tried everything — from ringing in the bowling changes to employing fields that ranged from aggressive to impudent. But he had found no way of thwarting Jadhav and Zol.
Now, he decided it was time to bring himself back on. Not so much as a last throw of a dice. With Maharashtra needing just 42 to win, there’s little even Zaheer could have done to change the inevitability about the result of the quarterfinal. But at least he could make the last lap slightly more difficult for Jadhav and Zol. Or so he have must have thought.
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Up against him was Zol, who he had castled in the first innings. The first delivery pitched on a length and was met by the full face of Zol’s bat and it raced to the boundary. Zaheer turned back, walked to his mark and ran in again. The 19-year-old Zol tried the same shot once again but the ball hit high on the bat and rolled to the mid-off fielder. Zaheer stared long and hard at Zol before giving the youngster a piece of his mind. Zol though was hardly fazed as he showed in the very next delivery. This time, he jumped out of his crease and smashed a length delivery from off-stump over mid-on for four.
He probably could have connected better. But it didn’t matter. The greenhorn had just made a massive statement to his battle-hardened opponent. That he wasn’t prepared to be bullied. It was a poignant moment on a day where Maharashtra made history by booking their berth in the Ranji Trophy semifinals for the first time in 17 years.
That audacious stroke, played so disdainfully, also symbolized the manner in which Maharashtra had dominated their fancied opponents and recorded an eight-wicket win in Mumbai’s den.
Zol eventually remained unbeaten on 91, a knock where he showed enough signs again to back the promise that many have vested in him. The courage shown against someone of Zaheer’s stature was only one part of it.
He had also shown the ability to learn from his errors and not repeat them again, along with immense self-control. At the other end, Jadhav was capping off a watershed season with the best icing on the cake ever. An unbeaten century in the biggest win of this young team’s history.
If Zol is the budding superstar in the Maharashtra unit, Jadhav is after all their talisman. Season after season he’s topped their batting averages and run tallies without ever really hogging the spotlight. Criticized often for having a penchant for playing one shot too many, he also showed that he could withstand pressure without flinching and throwing his wicket away.
And while Zol got the better of Zaheer, so did Jadhav, smashing him for two fours in his next over. One a cover drive that sent the ball scurrying across the Wankhede outfield before Jadhav swivelled onto his back-foot and pulled him nonchalantly to the square-leg fence. His 120 not out was the fifth century of this season, and it also took his tally past 1000 runs in just 14 innings.
It was Zaheer who had produced a breakthrough in the first session to put the skids on Maharashtra’s hopes, getting Harshad Khadiwale. By the time he returned now for his final spell, Jadhav and Zol were dictating terms. And they made him pay too just like they had the rest of the Mumbai bowlers. Jadhav in particular taking special liking to Vishal Dabholkar, hitting him for three sixes in the same over.
If the first session was all about attrition and that quest to see off the strike bowlers, the second was about putting the home team to the sword. This was the period where Jadhav and Zol didn’t allow the Mumbai bowlers to deliver a single maiden for 24 overs.
Zol welcomed Abhishek Nayar with two crisp cover drives, holding his pose for just the extra moment off the second. At the other end, Jadhav stepped out and hammered left-arm spinner Dabholkar for two boundaries. Once the score crossed 150, the batsmen hit top-gear.
Eventually Jadhav and Zol took their team home without much fuss. And Jadhav celebrated by flicking the bails and plucking the stump out as nonchalantly as he and his young partner had treated the Mumbai bowling on a day Maharashtra showed that they could indeed hold their own against their arch rivals.
Brief scores: Mumbai 402 & 129 vs Maharashtra 280 & 252/2 (K Jadhav 120 n.o, V Zol 91 n.o; Z Khan 2/51)