Updated: October 18, 2016 12:36:16 pm
“Ab push mat karna! Pair tight ho gaya hai!”
It was near the end of the day’s play but Ankit Bawne, built like a boxer, with rippling biceps and the works, was pushing Swapnil Gugale for a third. That’s when Gugale had to yell out those words, and both laugh later when they talk about it. The duo had more reasons to joke around — they had shared a 249-run stand, hit hundreds, remained unbeaten, and taken Maharashtra to 290 for two at stumps on the first day of the match against the more fancied Delhi.
Delhi were left to rue the two chances they gave Gugale — on 38 when Dhruv Shorey clanged a head-high catch at first slip, and on 105 when Nitish Rana dropped a sitter at deepish mid-off. Gugale grabbed the chances to make his first day as captain (Kedar Jadhav is on India duty for the ODIs) pretty special.
There were three phases in their partnership, the first real big one they have had together. Caution in the first session against the impressive young lanky seamer Navdeep Saini, who got the two wickets and seamed the ball around on a track that had some grass covering; busy in the early part of the second session with pushed singles and twos, and a carefree fluent approach for the second half of the day. Delhi had given up the ghost by the middle of the day, with Saini threat negated, Parwinder Awana more steady than threatening, and the two left-arm spinners — Manan Sharma and Varun Sood — unable to do much on this track. It didn’t help them that they had lost Pradeep Sangwan to a side-strain and the replacement Pawan Suyal took his time to settle in but by then the two batsmen were rollicking along.
Gugale kept reeling his fluent drives through covers and cover point, and Bawne unfurled the punches and the drives. For the second of the day, and especially in the last session, it had got all too easy. It says a lot about the way these two crafted their knocks, and the way Delhi’s discipline evaporated perhaps a tad too early.
“Gugale’s laughter is the most famous, and noticeable, feature that I would remember from my coaching days,” says Surendra Bhave, the former Maharashtra coach who lives in Pune. “He is quite a character — humourous, a prankster, a team-man, and to get 150 on the first day as captain is quite an achievement.”
Over the years, the 25-year old Gugale was associated so strongly with the age-group tournaments — like U-23 and such — that it took him a while to seal a spot in the Ranji team. In the past, he has spoken about how he did feel a bit let down to see his team-mates go past him and play for the state while he had to wait. And when he got in, he couldn’t cement his place, and had to fall back to the age-group level. The last couple of years has seen a turnaround of sorts, and to not only raise to captaincy, even if it’s temporary, affirms the kind of character that Bhave speaks about. He is very easy on the eye as a batsman, especially in those front-foot drives, but he would take a lot more heart by the way he handled Saini.
The tall saini, who with a quick-arm action that makes you almost sit up and notice every time he ran in, bowled really well. He had a good in-cutter, to use an old-fashioned term, the ability to exact bounce, the ability to appear quicker than he probably is courtesy that action (Vijay Dahiya, former Delhi coach, reckons he would be around 130-135 kmph). The nip-backer had trapped Chirag Khuaran in front of the stumps, and a straighter one that bounced took care of Harshad Kadiwale, who was snapped up by a lunging Chand at second slip.
Gugale tried as much to play inside the line as possible, and didn’t get flustered on the occasions Saini got the ball to rush past the outside edge. Ditto, Bawne, who too had to face the fag end of the first spell (7-0-28-2) and managed to see that phase out. “Bhawne is the rock of this team,” says Bhave. The coach’s association go back a long way, to years before to U-16 Polly Umrigar Trophy when the kid Bawne scored over 1000 runs in that tournament. “He is just a solid professional — look at the number of centuries he scored in club cricket in Chennai this year. He is always totally committed to the game, and for the last three years, even with the presence of Kedar Jadhav, I would say Bawne has been the backbone of this team.”
Bawne also shared what the two discussed early in the second session, “Bhai, humey bada bana-na hai”. Cliche, perhaps, but packed with such goodness and cricketing soul in it, that it never gets stale.
Sometimes, we get a lovely day’s play like this when the mind doesn’t wander to unnecessary stuff about whether these are India prospects, or worse, how low-quality Ranji games can be on occasions. Some days, you are just happy watching two batsmen weather out a semi-crisis triggered by a good spell from a young bowler, and bat, bat, and bat on.
Brief Scores: Maharashtra 290/2 in 90 overs (Swapnil Gugale 152 batting, Ankit Bawane 120 batting; Navdeep Saini 2/43) vs Delhi.
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