Maharashtra teenager slams unbeaten 451
In May this year, while at a camp with the India Under-16 team, Vijay Zol met Virender Sewhag at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore. Sehwag learned that Zol was the highest scorer in the latest Vijay Merchant Trophy, the domestic U-16 tournament. Zol also told Sehwag that during the final against Delhi he had suffered from torn ligaments in his left knee and had been out of cricket for nearly four months after surgery in February.
Sehwag gave the now 17-year-old Zol several pep talks and an unexpected present as well. "Sehwag asked me about my knee injury and spoke about other things and then gifted me a bat," Zol recalls. The bat had a simple message on it: "Dear Vijay Zol, Best Wishes. Sehwag." He still marvels at the gift and was certain he would never play with it.
Zol, who hails from Jalna in Maharashtra, says the confidence he derived from the chat with his idol played a crucial role in his remarkable unbeaten 451 for Maharashtra U-19s against Assam U-19s in the on-going league match of the Cooch Behar Trophy in Nasik. Though there are no official records to verify exactly where he stands in the record books in youth cricket, Zol's score was higher than Bhausaheb Nimbalkar's landmark 443, the highest first-class score by an Indian, set in 1948 during a Ranji match between Maharashtra and Kathiawar.
Asked about his feat, Zol said his record was still sinking in. "When you score 451 you can't even express exactly how one feels," Zol told ESPNcricinfo over the telephone from Nasik at the end of the third, and penultimate, day's play.
Zol, a left-hand opener, took nearly 11 hours, faced 467 deliveries, and hit 53 boundaries along with two sixes in his outstanding innings, which was more than double his previous career-best score of 222. That double-century came against Gujarat in the leagues stages of last year's Vijay Merchant tournament. Asked about the ingredients needed to play a marathon innings, Zol picked out patience as the most necessary factor. "Shot selection is equally important. The margin of error is very minimal so you have to be on your toes always."
Zol said the pitch in Nasik was good for batsmen. "The bowling attack was decent but the track supported me a lot." Zol also praised the contributions of his team-mates. The best partnership was of 284, with his opening partner Jai Pande, who missed a century by three runs.
Zol completed his century in the first session of the match and carried on to reach 264 by stumps on the first day. David Andrews, the Maharashtra coach, was confident that Zol could go for a truly massive score given that the conditions were helpful. On the second day, Zol continued to play his shots freely, putting on 230 with Maharashtra's No. 3 Abhishek Salvi.
At the end of the second session, Maharashtra had amassed 763 for 4 and decided to declare. Zol was 49 short of 500 runs. "I was not disappointed. The team comes first. It was a flat pitch so we needed time to get 20 wickets," he said of the decision to declare. On Saturday, Assam were bundled out for 158 in their first innings and were 140 for 4 after being forced to follow-on.
If he wasn't at the match, Zol could have been at the BCCI Awards ceremony in Chennai to pick up his prize for Best Under-16 Cricketer, possibly from Sehwag himself, and met the other Indian players too. Zol said he was happy to be in Nasik, helping Maharashtra towards a win. "It is an honour to get an award from the BCCI but I would have missed something more important than that," Zol, a standard nine drop-out, said. He was happy his dad Hari Zol, an advocate, collected the award on his behalf.
Zol said his feat means a lot to him. "It is a big milestone for me. I know my ability now and how far I can go." When he crossed 400 it was revealed to Zol that he was close to Nimbalkar's famous score. "I had never heard that name ever," was Zol's frank response. For the moment, his knowledge of cricket history does not matter. His own name is now in the history books.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo