IT WAS up to Shardul Thakur now. Baroda had gone to the lunch break on the second day having already achieved that much-vaunted primary target in a Ranji Trophy contest. The first innings lead was theirs. Not only were they 10 runs ahead of Mumbai’s paltry 171, they still had eight wickets in hand. Aditya Waghmode and Deepak Hooda had, meanwhile, not just settled in but dominated the Mumbai attack, rendering them seemingly toothless on a rather helpful pitch.
Mumbai turned to their talisman, the one who had spent a major part of the last few months in the India dressing-room and played a couple of ODIs along the way. Thakur, to his credit, produced a spell of great menace and pace.
That Hooda, who made a punishing 75, and Waghmode, with a hard-fought 138, came unscathed through this Thakur spell set the tone for, and if anything emphasized, Baroda’s control over the match as they finished the second day on 376/4, a lead of 205 runs and a prospect of an outright win.
Thakur’s plan was rather telegraphed. He had a deep backward square-leg and a long-leg in position, and had marked his run to come from around the wicket to the right-handed Hooda. He also had a very straight short fine-leg and a close-in square-leg. This was going to be a watered-down Ranji Trophy version of Bodyline with all legal bases covered on the field.
It was also a move to play on Hooda’s attacking instincts and in lieu his patience and get him to play the miscued hook or pull. Thakur was in rhythm and also generating enough pace to rush Hooda into a mistake. There were three short-pitched deliveries in his first over, all of which Hooda either ducked under or swayed away from.
The dose was repeated in the next over, and the one after that with Thakur constantly swapping his angle of delivery. But the young Baroda captain, who had otherwise smashed five sixes off left-arm spinner Vijay Gohil, held his nerve and kept his instinct in check. There were a couple of times when the ball seemed to have a radar attached as it kept honing in towards Hooda’s head getting him to lose his balance but not his wicket.
When he was allowed to get on top of the ball too Hooda preferred to calmly pat it towards the ground without getting too funky. Thakur did go for the inevitable bluff on and off, pitching the ball fuller from over the wicket for the lbw, but Hooda was alert enough to flick them away to the open field and pick up a single or two.
Waghmode, shorter than his partner and perhaps not as equipped to handle the barrage, was tested more and even copped a couple of blows, losing balance and falling in a heap on one occasion. But he too hung on dourly to thwart the Thakur threat.
“I think that spell was the best of the day. He was landing bouncers on the seam, so the ball was moving after pitching. Generally the bouncer is bowled cross seam, so the ball comes on straight after pitching. I fell a couple of times as I tried to leave. My colleagues also fell a couple of times. That was special and we handled that spell quite well,” Waghmode would say about the spell later in the day.
A little too late
Inexplicably, Thakur had been brought on only after an hour’s play on Friday morning had passed with Baroda allowed to coast along. This, while Royston Dias had walked off without completing his first over of the day, holding his hamstring and Dhawal Kulkarni looking ineffective. The only challenge to the Baroda batsmen was Abhishek Nayar bowling his harmless line wide outside off-stump.
For good measure, Thakur struck in his third over, removing Vishnu Solanki with an out-swinger and also beat the Waghmode outside-edge on a few occasions. Thakur had even produced a surprise bouncer to the aggressive Hooda, who somehow managed to fend it off over the slip region for a boundary.
When he wasn’t being tested by Thakur, Hooda was showcasing his attractive array of shots, which he possesses and had prompted many to tout him as one of the next big things in India. Hooda is a self-confessed Kevin Pietersen fan. And except for the roll-up of the sleeves, letting them rest on his biceps, it shows in his stance and the trigger movements.
The legs are slightly splayed apart, the shuffle towards the off-stump is pronounced and the tall right-hander stays upright at the point of delivery, his weight always pressing forward. It’s especially in the way he treated Gohil that it became even more apparent. With Mumbai on the back-foot, the left-arm spinner bowled mainly from over the wicket outside Hooda’s leg-stump with an attempt to cramp and bore him out.
But Hooda kept jumping out of his crease—charging nearly halfway down at times—opening himself up and managing to hit the ball well over the long-on and midwicket fences. Even if of a different standard, the assault on Gohil was reminiscent of Pietersen’s on Pragyan Ojha right here at Wankhede in 2012. There were times he overdid the charge and was got himself into trouble, escaping a stumping chance once, before finally falling to the sword, being caught at a wide deep mid-wicket.
Waghmode though continued and ended up anchoring the innings with his sixth first-class ton. He is the quintessential Ranji opener, plucky and tenacious with no great keenness on looking attractive at the crease. A lot of his runs will come through nudges, prods and pokes. The thirdman area will see a lot of action and a long innings from him will rarely provide much to the highlights package.
Having said that, Waghmode did produce a few pleasing drives through the covers, including the one to get to his half-century, and a few powerful sweeps of Gohil. He even dared to step out of his crease and launch the left-arm spinner over the long-on fence. This was of course after he was well past his century.
He had scored only 15 off the first 88 balls he faced in his innings, which was more par for the course. It was an innings that perhaps won’t stay in your memory for too long in terms of the shots played. And almost symbolically even the dismissal was rather unassuming, a stray poke to a harmless straight delivery from part-time spinner Shreyas Iyer that resulted in Waghmode being snapped up at slip.
Baroda though will not forget his contribution in a hurry, considering it has set them up for what could potentially be a famous win in a historic match. At the moment, it only seems like Mumbai can at the most limit the damage. But even for that to happen, it will once again be up to Shardul Thakur again.
Brief Scores: Mumbai 171 all out vs Baroda 376/4 ( Waghmode 138, Deepak Hooda 75).