What does it take to score 351 over nearly two days, break a 70-year old partnership record in Ranji and threaten the world record for that matter? Two litres of water every ten minutes during the breaks apart from the on-field gulps, 20 changes of gloves with help from team-mates to spread out the sweaty ones to be dried in the sun, curbing the enthusiasm of your extremely fit partner and convincing him to settle for two’s, and if all this doesn’t work, keep swapping from short-sleeves to full-sleeves numerous times. The rational ones might sneeze but Swapnil Gugale, captaining Maharashtra for the first time, wasn’t going to deny himself some cricketing superstition.
The sleeves-shuffle was the most interesting of them all. For the last two days, when he broke the back of Delhi with a memorable triple ton, and shared a record 594-run partnership for Maharashtra with the bearded double-centurion Ankit Bawne, Gugale presented us with the curious case of the changing sleeves. Sometimes, his arms would be draped fully but then he would emerge from a break in half-sleeves. It turns out it was down to superstition. On the first day, it so happened he came out with a full-sleeved shirt, and got to his hundred. “So I thought, let me keep trying it out near landmarks if possible, or every now and then,” he smiles.
They were just 30 short of the breaking the world-record in first class cricket set by Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene in 2006, but they weren’t aware of it till they declared, and Gugale said he also wanted to put Delhi in for a five overs, which incidentally would have been enough for them break the record.
“We have to get points from this game, it’s not about my 400 or other records,” Gugale said. Admirable and the right decision of course especially as they weren’t aware of it, but wonder how they would feel about it in the morning.
There were enough landmarks and time spent under the sun, though, to get a good night’s sleep. Enough time for him to keep picking a sweat-free pair of gloves in regular intervals, enough thirst to keep the caterers busy with steady supply of bottled water, and most importantly, enough runs to leave Delhi with an unenviable task of chasing down 636 to earn the points for first-innings lead.
The records kept tumbling: the most number of runs by a Maharashtra batsman, the highest partnership in Ranji Trophy history, breaking 577 set by Vijay Hazare and Gul Mohammed for Baroda against Holkar in 1946-47, highest individual score for Bawne as well. Gugale’s was the seventh-highest individual score in Ranji Trophy, and third highest by a captain (after Sanjay Manjrekar’s 377 and Vijay Manjrekar’s 359).
Unsurprisingly, it got all a bit too much for Delhi. Just as their players came out to field after tea break on second day, a voice rang out from behind: “Wake up boys!” It was said in jest by their bowling coach Amit Bhandari, a former player, but it caught the mood pretty well.
Delhi were hobbling in the bowling department after their best bowler of the match Navdeep Saini, the young seamer, tore a muscle in his abdomen area at the start of play, and had to leave the field.
They were already without Pradeep Sangwan for this game, and were just left with the steady Parwinder Awana.
The spinners didn’t have the guile to create something out of flat track, and the two batsmen kept going on and on without much fuss. The catching continued to be poor for the second day, leaving their new coach KP Bhaskar puzzled (“The boys had done so well in the first game”); Awana dropped Gugale on 265 at midwicket, and Maharashtra marched on.
The two batsmen revealed that there was the usual banter on the field with the Delhi players enquiring them, “Bore nahi hue, kya?” and such. Bawne’s smile spills out of his lush beard when he says, “Batting mey kabhi koi bore hota hai kya?!” (Does anyone ever get bored batting?).
Bawne was the fittest cricketer out there, no surprise as he goes to gym twice a day on non-match days, and the way Gugale shook his head, and said, “Iska training toh kuch alag level,” said much. The stamina was visible on the field. So was ambition. “It was my dream to score a hundred at Wankhede, I had come close but never managed it,” Bawne said.
Sometimes, in cricket, we hear batsmen feast on flat tracks but aren’t frank enough to acknowledge the state of pitch. Understandably so, that one would want to talk up their achievements but these two were refreshingly honest. “Wicket toh beauty tha!” Bawne cooed. “Once I got in and batted for a while, I knew hundred kya, we can make it real big here”.
Gugale too agreed, adding that Bawne even told him at the start of the second day that we can bat so long to create a partnership record, and try to bat Delhi out of the game. Gugale was aware that the highest score by a Maharashtra batsman was 290 before that, but wasn’t quite sure about the other achievements, and were informed by the team later on.
The 25-year old Bawne,who debuted for Maharasthra at 15, has played enough cricket to talk about how Delhi might be weighed down more by tiredness and scoreboard pressure, than the pitch in the next two days. “I remember a game where Tamil Nadu kept us on the field for two days, we were all tired out by the end of it. So it’s going to be difficult for Delhi too, I am sure.” It would take some getting for sure.
Brief scores: Maharashtra 635 for 2 decl. (Swapnil Gugale n.o. 351, Ankit Bawne n.o.258; Navdeep Saini 2 for 44) v Delhi 21 for no loss (Unmukht Chand batting 4, Mohit Sharma batting 14).
FOR THE RECORD
577: The previous record partnership in Ranji Trophy cricket. It was between Baroda’s Vijay Hazare (288) and Gul Mohammad (319) — 4th wicket — against Holkar in the final of the Ranji Trophy in 1946-47.
30: Number of runs, which were needed for Gugale-Bawne to equal the world record partnership stand in First-Class cricket when Maharashtra declared at 635 for 2. The 624-run partnership between Kumara Sangakkara (287) and Mahela Jayawardene (374) against South Africa in a Test match in Colombo in 2006 is the best ever in a First-Class game.