Sometimes, particularly in Ranji Trophy, we get these manic phase sandwiched by almost an anaesthetic air otherwise. Like on Monday, in Mumbai. This is what happened just before lunch: In space of 24 deliveries, Mumbai lost four wickets with Railways’ Karn Sharma taking three in 12 balls. On either side of those frenetic 21 minutes, the left-hander Akhil Herwadkar hit a compactly-accrued 145 and found solid support in the lower-order batsman Nikhil Patil (82*) as Mumbai lolled along to end up on 330 for 9 to take a handy 113-run lead that has put them firmly on top of the game.
Until 11.26 am when he fell, Shreyas Iyer was cantering along with the fast-improving Herwadkar. There has been no second-season blues for Iyer; he has batted long, and scored enough, to make one intimate with his repertoire of shots. There were a couple of very Younis Khan-ish strokes — the fluent square drive where the bat seems an extension of his arms and the down-the-track pick up shot over the on-side. He also loves those lofted hits down the ground to seamers and spinners alike. He unfurled all of them on Monday to move swiftly to 57 when he was done in by Karn Sharma.
It was a well-tossed up delivery that looped and dipped — Sharma doesn’t bowl them often enough much to his own detriment, almost constrained by his bustling quick-arm action — and it landed as a perfect tease on the other side. Tempted into the big booming lofted off-drive that he likes to play, Iyer went for it but wasn’t well-balanced on the crease. He ended up reaching out and could only nick it behind to leave Mumbai on 131 for 3.
The floodgates opened. Suryakumar Yadav, who has changed his batting approach from reckless abandon to a more judicious shot-selection this season, made an error of judgement. With a leg slip in place, he still went for a paddle sweep — three of them in four deliveries he faced — and it wasn’t a surprise when it went straight to the catching man. Luckily for him, and Mumbai, this kind of mental slip-up has been an exception rather than norm this season.
140 for 4 became 141 for 5 when Aditya Tare tried to shoulder arms to a legbreak from Sharma but it bounded off the pad to the gloves/bat and popped up to second slip, one of the four waiting palms near the bat. Six runs later, Sidesh Lad was trapped lbw by Sharma when he just prodded forward without much conviction.
At that point, Mumbai were still trailing by 70 runs and Railways might have hoped for a small little lead as well but that was not be as Herwadkar and Patil took the game away from them. Barring a close lbw shout when he failed to connect with a sweep against the offspinner Arnab Nandi, Patil looked very much at ease and pushed and drove his way.
There is nothing fancy about the left-hander Herwadkar’s batting. He is a batsman who is learning more about his own art, and what he is capable of, and what he should avoid. Like square driving that had led to some of his dismissals. Like playing across the line, trying to flick to square-leg in pursuit of some pressure-relieving runs.
Things have been coming along nicely this year, his first proper full season with Mumbai. He is seeking to be more compact in his stroke play and trying to play much straighter.
It was Herwadkar who started the day in an authoritative fashion, rushing ahead of Iyer as he hit Sharma out of the attack with a slugged hit to the straight boundary and a caressed extra-cover drive. He punched the seamers Anureet Singh and Akshat Pandey to straight boundaries and swept the offspinner Nandi a couple of times. When Singh tried to bounce him in his 90’s, he played a couple of pull shots and continued to progress serenely after his hundred.
It all looked so simple and easy, a credit to both Herwadkar and Patil, but it did make those 21 minutes of mayhem in the middle all the more dramatic, but that’s how some Ranji days roll. A weaker team finds some inspiration and runs hot for a brief while but then it all goes quiet and pear shaped.
Brief scores: Railways 217. Mumbai 330/9 in 94 overs (Akhil Herwadkar 145, Shreyas Iyer 57, Nikhil Patil 82*; Karn Sharma 6/90).