Anupam Sanklecha is an oddity in the Maharashtra team. For starters, he’s 31, which makes him the oldest member of the current side. Moreover, having been around for close to a decade, the medium-pacer has only played 24 first-class matches.
In a stop-start career, which has included a stint in the rebel ICL, grade cricket at nondescript venues and periods where he doubted whether playing cricket was what he really wanted, Sanklecha’s starring role on Friday afternoon at the Wankhede Stadium will go some distance in making up for lost time.
With Maharashtra on the mat, having conceded a 122-run first innings lead, the writing was on the wall. The general feeling was that Mumbai, a team known to pile on the misery when the opposition is down, were going to bat their unsung opponents out of the game. However, Sanklecha, son of a spice trader from Ahmednagar, had other ideas.
Sanklecha’s heroics, a four-wicket burst, shot Mumbai out for 129 — giving Maharashtra a 252-run target, of which they shaved off 28, leaving them to get 224 with nine wickets in hand with two days still remaining.
With the pitch still retaining plenty of life right until stumps on Day Three, Maharashtra will need to weather the first hour, mainly the threat of the experienced Zaheer Khan, who accounted for Chirag Khurana with the final delivery of the third day’s play, and the famous helpful Wankhede mornings.
Incidentally, Sanklecha is the only player from the current Maharashtra team to have featured in their last outright victory over Mumbai, almost eight years back to the day. Back then, he had played a starring role with the bat. Today, of course, it was with the ball.
It took Sanklecha just three deliveries to show that Maharashtra weren’t prepared to go down without a fight. He got one to rise up to Wasim Jaffer’s ribs and then seam away with his edge. And in the last over before lunch, Sanklecha’s partner, Samad Fallah, sent back a tentative Kaustubh Pawar, whose weak prod was snapped up safely at third slip.
Mumbai, specifically Shardul Thakur, had ripped through Maharashtra immediately after lunch on Day Two. Now it was Sanklecha’s turn to return the favour. Four overs after lunch, the pacer produced the delivery of the day as he got one to come back into Vinit Indulkar, squaring up the right-hander. The ball kissed the edge of his bat and zooted into Rohit Motwani’s gloves behind the stumps.
Abhishek Nayar, who has been one of Mumbai’s major disappointments this season, was taken care of with the very next ball. This one pitched slightly fuller, getting Nayar to stretch his right-foot out. The footwork though was cursory and the poke meek as Sanklecha’s perfect out-swinger brushed the outside-edge and had the seasoned left-hander caught at third slip.
With the top order back in the hut and just 25 on the board, all hopes were placed on Aditya Tare’s, Mumbai’s highest run-getter this season, willow. Tare, however, slashed wildly at a ball angled into him, one that straightened after pitching. Half their side was out with the lead barely past 150.
This was Sanklecha’s moment under the sun. For years, he was the outsider. Here, he was holding Mumbai’s batsmen to ransom in their own backyard. Not with menace, but with patience, unrelenting consistency and the ability to move the ball off the wicket.
It wasn’t surprising then to see Sanklecha, who bowled two spells of seven overs each with just a 20-minute break in between, itching to bowl, often jogging back to his mark. On Saturday, he will hope that his batsmen allow him time to rest those tired heels and hopefully do what very few gave him a chance of doing — beating Mumbai and making it through to the semifinals.
Brief scores: Mumbai 402 & 129 (S Thakur 33, S Yadav 33; A Sanklecha 4/57, S Mundhe 3/26, S Fallah 3/45) vs M’rashtra 280 & 28/1 (C Khurana 17, Z Khan 1/5)