As Maharashtra set about chasing 200 runs on the fourth morning of their Ranji Trophy quarterfinal against 40-time winners Mumbai, one of the two batsmen in the middle, the young Vijay Zol, was a bundle of nerves.
India’s under-19 skipper had been dropped on three and looked especially under-confident, flashing wildly at a couple of wide deliveries from Abhishek Nayar and almost edging the ball to the ‘keeper in the process.
It was then that his partner at the crease, Kedar Jadhav, walked up to Zol and told the youngster that his wicket was key to Maharashtra’s chances. Jadhav further told Zol to stop worrying about scoring and focus instead on handling himself in that pressure situation.
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After the duo pulled off the memorable victory, the 19-year-old Zol, who eventually scored 91*, said that his partner’s advice at a time when he was trying to hit his way out of trouble, made the difference.
Soothing words and pressure-easing jokes set Jadhav apart. His impact on this Maharashtra side goes beyond all those runs that he has scored. And he has scored more runs that any other batsman this season – 1034 runs in 14 innings with an average of 94.
A hard-hitting attacking batsmen, Jadhav’s self-belief has rubbed off on the team, says coach Surendra Bhave. “Kedar is a free-flowing personality. Pressure does not get to him and he often helps guys relax out in the middle. People seem to follow his lead on the field, because he is a very practical cricketer and a natural leader of the pack,” he says.
Though the team is led by Rohit Motwani, Jadhav is the skipper’s go-to man. The 28-year-old, his teammates say, is a street-smart cricketer. “I make it a point to always talk to Kedar before bowling to a batsman because he reads a person’s game really well,” says pacer Samad Fallah, one of the heroes of the win over Mumbai. “At times he points out something very innocuous about a batsman, which you as a bowler have failed to notice.”
Before this season, though, Jadhav’s reputation of being a sharp cricketer was often side-tracked by his inconsistency with the bat. Coming into the 2013-14 season, the 28-year-old had scored only four Ranji hundreds for Maharashtra over a period of seven years. The reason for that, according to Jadhav, was his lack of patience. “Earlier, I didn’t care about scoring a hundred. I used to get fifty-sixty runs quickly and then lose interest. But when I scored that 327 last year against UP, who had a good attack, it was a great feeling. Something clicked inside me and I wanted to experience that feeling a lot more,” he says.
Jadhav now has nine hundreds, five of them coming this season, including a double hundred against Hyderabad. His unbeaten 120 in the fourth innings against Mumbai, he says, was proof of how he has matured as a batsman. “I did not hit a boundary for a whole hour,” says the batsman whose strike rate this season has been a above 80.
“I had decided not to touch anything outside the off-stump and totally cut out the pull shot. Till I was set and confident of doing so,” he says. The right-hander scored just 35 runs in 77 balls before lunch. However, after the interval, he shifted gears, blasting 85 off 67.
Jadhav’s penchant for stepping up at the big-stage is remarkable. Having announced himself during the third IPL season in 2010, where he smacked a flamboyant half-century off 29 balls on debut, or his breezy fifty against England playing for India A last year, Jadhav knows he is different.
“I love the spotlight, I love the attention a big occasion brings to you. I know I can become something of substance in this game and the only way of proving that is to come out on top when the spotlight is on you. You need to show people that you have it in you, and you need to show it consistently,” he says.
Tiwary in Bengal squad
Kolkata: Manoj Tiwary has been included as a provisional member in the 20-man Bengal squad for the Ranji Trophy semifinal match against Maharashtra beginning January 18. Tiwary has been recovering from a knee injury sustained in June last year and hasn’t played a match this season. Tiwary will undergo his next round of fitness test at the NCA on Wednesday.
Team: Laxmi Ratan Shukla (captain), Arindam Das, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Subhomoy Das, Sudip Chatterjee, Wriddhiman Saha, Writtick Chatterjee,
Sandipan Das, Kousik Ghosh, Sourashis Lahiri, Iresh Saxena, Arnab Nandy, Ashok Dinda, Shib Shankar Paul, Sourav Sarkar, Veer Pratap Singh, Sourav Mondal, Gitimoy Basu
Provisional members: Manoj Tiwary, Sayan Sekhar Mondal — ENS