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.
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 continued…