October 24, 2013 4:14:47 am
In December 2007,with Maharashtras Ranji Trophy team floundering at the bottom of Elite group A,the team management for the final game of the season took a couple of punts. On a green wicket in Ratnagiri,against a Karnataka bowling attack spearheaded by India international,R Vinay Kumar,two 15-year-olds were picked to play.
Ankeet Bawne,just 15 but coming off a title-winning season with the Maharashtra under-15 team in the Polly Umrigar trophy,having scored a phenomenal 1,042 runs in nine innings at an average of 115.77,was told to take first strike,with Vinay Kumar ready to steam in.
It would have been natural if the 15-year-old from Aurangabad was suffering from a serious case of butterflies in the stomach,but Bawne dispels suggestions of any such frailties. I was completely fine. The nervousness that comes when the ball is released by any bowler at any level was there,but I wasnt thinking about the stage or the bowler across me, he says.
Bawne compiled a steady 27 off 53 balls,creaming five confidently-struck boundaries along the way. Looking back,Bawne says the pace of the bowlers was something that he had to get used to. After scoring four consecutive hundreds in the Polly Umrigar Trophy,I was definitely confident. Also,I guess the bowlers didnt expect a 15-year-old playing his first Ranji Trophy game to really put his foot out every time the ball was pitched up and play a big drive, he chuckles.
Maharashtra eventually lost that match by an innings and 129 runs and were subsequently placed near the bottom of their group. Sunil Jadhav,the other 15-year-old debutant,has not figured for the senior side since. However,Bawne cemented his reputation as someone who could tough it out. In his next season for the senior team,he was given three matches,and he produced 133 runs in five innings with one half century. His run meter in the under-16 category though kept on ticking as he produced a double century in the very first match against Saurashtra.
Bawnes first big season arrived in 2009-10 when he scored 369 runs in five matches,scoring his first First Class century and then adding one more on a spicy Roshanara wicket in Delhi. In the next three seasons,Bawnes average hasnt dropped under 50. He has scored five more hundreds,with his ability to bat for long periods of time clearly visible. He is clearly the fulcrum of the Maharashtra middle order.
In 2011 though,Bawnes career was in jeopardy. Having scored three hundreds in eight one-day matches for the Maharashtra under-19 team,the captaincy of the India under-19 team was conferred on the lad from Aurangabad. However,just a couple of days before the Indian teams first game,he was stripped of the captaincy,and alleged to have been overage.
There was a discrepancy in the birthdate mentioned on my passport and birth certificate. It was quite a taxing time for me mentally. Lots of questions were asked and there were times when I was under quite a bit of pressure, says the 20-year-old. Bawne rode out this problem by employing a solution he says is the best. Asked to play an under-22 game in order to prove himself,he scored an unbeaten 124 off 229 balls,saving the match for Maharashtra who were following on.
That knock really helped my mental state. I had my best First Class season so far that year,scoring 531 runs at an average of 75.85. I believe in making runs and that too against credible opposition is something that I have found answers most of the questions that your critics pose, he says.
Since then,Bawnes career graph has steadily risen,he has been picked in the India under-23 side that played the Emerging Teams Cup in Singapore in August this year.
His performances there,batting on slow and low pitches,coming in at number five earned him a place in the NKP Salve Challenger Trophy.
The right-hander scored 37 in the final against Delhi,steadying his side after they lost a couple of wickets. His Challenger Trophy performances allowed him a place in the West Zone side for the Duleep Trophy where he batted for more than eight hours to score a fluent unbeaten 115 on a track where the ball spun viciously.
The best part about scoring these runs on these platforms is the fact that I am getting noticed. I am being picked for these elite tournaments and that has given me a lot of confidence. Now the plan is just to keep on scoring runs consistently and prove to the selectors that I am completely ready to hold my own at a higher level, he says.
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