Jadhav times his ton well
Just before lunch, when Harshad Khadiwale and Sangram Atitkar were frustrating a star-studded Uttar Pradesh bowling line-up at the Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium on what was Maharashtra's opening day of the Ranji Trophy season, Kedar Jadhav, who was effectively used as a lower middle-order player last season, strolled into the stands to greet some of his friends.
With Nikhil Paradkar padded up to bat at No. 4 and the Khadiwale-Atitkar stand going strong, Jadhav was in no hurry. However, 40 minutes into the second session, newly-appointed head coach Dermot Reeve ordered Jadhav to pad up and announced the aggressive batsman would walk in next if and when a wicket fell.
The ploy did wonders as not only did 27-year-old Jadhav upped the ante on his arrival at the wicket, by the end of the day's play, he had raised his third first-class century to put Maharashtra in firm control at 339 for 3.
With Jadhav and Ankit Bawne, who got a reprieve from wicketkeeper Amir Khan off Imtiaz Ahmed moments after opening his account, sharing an unbroken 152-run stand for the fourth wicket in just over two hours, it looks like Uttar Pradesh batsmen will have to bat out of their skins in order to gain three points from the game.
Half an hour after Jadhav replaced Khadiwale, who scored 68, at the crease, he lost Atitkar, who was strolling towards a ton. Both the set batsmen saw their off stump uprooted by the consistent Bhuvneshwar Kumar, easily the pick of the UP bowlers.
But both Jadhav and Bawne waged an assault on the UP bowlers after the tea break. Jadhav, especially, was unstoppable as he plundered 89 runs in the last session. And had he not got cautious against the second new ball, which was taken after 84 overs, he could well have scored a century in a session.
The milestone came with just four balls remaining in the day when Jadhav drove Kumar straight down the ground to run his second successive brace and burst into celebrations. Not only did he justify his promotion in the batting order, but he made a point to many of the Indian Premier League franchise owners for having ignored him last year.
After scoring a Man of the Match-winning 29-ball fifty on his IPL debut - for Delhi Daredevils against Royal Challengers Bangalore - in 2010, Jadhav featured for now-disbanded Kochi Tuskers Kerala the following year. But even after accumulating more than 500 runs in the Ranji Trophy last season, no franchise approached him. Not only did Jadhav let the phase pass by but he put his head down to continue scoring big in the domestic one-dayers played after the deadline for signing players for the IPL was over.
As a result, Jadhav had plenty to gain from the innings. "First and foremost, I have helped the team snatch the advantage on the first day," Jadhav said . "And from a personal perspective, I think it would boost my confidence and show everyone that I can do it in different situations."
For almost half a decade now, Jadhav has been considered as a talented batsman. But he hopes that this knock, and the rest of the season, will help turn him into a stand-out batsman. "I am trying to be more disciplined, punctual to be precise. More often than not, I find it difficult to make it on time even for practice sessions," Jadhav said. "Even when it came to scoring big ahead of the IPL, it came late last year after the deadline was over. So I hope now that I have got the timing right, I hope to be consistent and sustain the momentum for the rest of the season."
If he lives by his words, then Maharashtra would not only find it easier to remain in Group B by the end of the season but also would hope to be promoted to Group A come next year.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo