Right from 9.30 am when the first ball was bowled, until about noon, the time Ankit Bawne walked in to the middle, he sat behind Maharashtra’s video-analyst, closely monitoring each ball that was bowled in the first session of the final against Karnataka. The 21-year-old Bawne follows the routine every time his team is batting. Summoning the right response when he is out there in the middle is what Bawne says is the challenge.
On Wednesday, it was a challenge when he walked in — Maharashtra were 90/3, having already lost two of their biggest hits this season, Vijay Zol and Kedar Jadhav. But he would triumph, taking his team to 272 for five, remaining unbeaten on 89 at stumps at the Rajiv Gandhi International stadium in Hyderabad.
Having won the toss on a dry wicket, Maharashtra opted to bat. Harshad Khadiwale, struck three fluent boundaries before being dismissed for 15, adding to his string of failures in the knockout round. Vijay Zol was uncomfortable right through, chasing deliveries outside the off-stump, before another half-hearted poke at a Sreenath Aravind delivery brought about his demise.
Jadhav creamed the Karnataka bowlers around, before he too fell, trying to nurdle a ball down legside.
With the score at 90/3, and with the Maharashtra innings looking in danger of collapsing, Bawne walked in. Against Mumbai, he had counter-attacked his way out of trouble, compiling a quick-fire 84 which allowed Maharashtra breathing space. Last week against Bengal in the semi-final, he had hunkered down, batting for more than four hours for a patient 89.
On Wednesday, Bawne seemed to have found a middle path. The plan was to keep the strike ticking over and run hard between the wickets. Later, he managed to pierce the fielders regularly, finishing with 10 boundaries. His first was a straight drive against Mithun — his now familiar front foot stride was out and the thump sent the ball past the bowlers fingers and clattered into the advertising hoarding.
Another shot, the one that gave him his 15th first-class fifty and sixth of the season, saw him step out to Amit Verma’s part-time leg-spin. The ball turned a touch, but the right-hander made the adjustment, using his bottom hand to whip the ball to the cover fence. In the course of his innings, his two partnerships, 54 with Chirag Khurana, 71 with Rohit Motwani and an unbeaten 57 with Sangram Atitkar ensured that Maharashtra trundled along.
While the rest of the Maharashtra batsmen were given to chasing the ball outside off and also fending at deliveries from a static position, Bawne’s feet moved fluidly. “The forward defense is one of my strongest weapons. Whenever I put out my foot and execute a tight defense, it puts doubts in the minds of the bowlers. Today, the bowlers would not have bowled to me on middle and leg if I hadn’t been tight in front of the stumps. You need to continue to execute that defense in the same tight fashion over a session. I have worked on that aspect, conditioning my mind to follow the plan and its working,” he says.
Growing up in Aurangabad, Bawne says his lack of access to top-notch cricket academies was a boon. Instead of too many technical adjustments being handed out to him at a young age, he says his early coaches made him shadow practice his basic strokes over the full course of the two hour session. On Wednesday, those long hours of basic drills came in handy, as he kept the Karnataka attack at bay. His sixth-wicket association with Atitkar will give Maharashtra hope as they go into day two.
With the wicket not offering too much in terms of movement, the pair will look to take a leaf out of a similar stand they put up in the semifinal, to take Maharashtra past the 400-run mark, a figure which captain Motwani says would be a good one to defend.
Maharashtra 1st innings
H Khadiwale lbw Vinay 15, C Khurana lbw b Nair 64, V Zol c Gautam b Aravind 5,K Jadhav c Gautam b Mithun 37,A Bawne batting 89, R Motwani c Gautam b Mithun 17, S Atitkar batting 29
Extras: (B5, LB6, NB5) 16
Total (For 5 wickets; 90 overs) 272
FoW: 1-24, 2-42, 3-90, 4-144, 5-215.
Bowling: Vinay 23-5-56-1, Mithun 19-6-44-2, Aravind 23-6-62-1, Pandey 1-0-2-0, Gopal 13-0-54-0, Nair 5-1-21-1, Verma 4-0-14-0, Sathish 2-0-8-0