Maharashtra's Khadiwale comes of age
When Harshad Khadiwale first toured with Maharashtra's squad as a teenager, almost a decade ago for the West Zone one-dayers in 2004-05, he was labelled the boy wonder of Maharashtra cricket. But, despite creating ripples on the Under-19 circuit and making his first-class debut as an 18-year-old, Khadiwale somehow couldn't live up to his potential.
The first half of the current season, though, seems to suggest Khadiwale has finally matured as an opener. No doubt he has had the advantage of flat decks and mediocre opposition in Group C of the Ranji Trophy. Still, a century in each of Maharashtra's three games so far, the latest being a double, has supported the notion that Khadiwale has finally reached the peak of his career. His 262 against Goa was a lesson in pacing an innings as an opener.
He began cautiously, then focused on rotating the strike, before getting into boundary-scoring mode. When an aggressive batsman like Kedar Jadhav was in full flow, Khadiwale was happy to take the back seat. But the moment Jadhav perished, he balanced the roles of sheet anchor and aggressor to perfection. It reflected in his numbers, as more than half of his runs came in boundaries in an innings that lasted seven minutes shy of 10 hours.
Khadiwale may have been sporting a beard, perhaps to appear mature, but his face still has that boyish charm. Usually a man of few words, Khadiwale did open up a bit after his marathon innings, admitting he has taken time to come of age, but adding that he doesn't think he has done badly either. "First and foremost, it's difficult for an opener to be consistent at any level. Opening the batting is perhaps the most difficult role and I don't think I have fared badly. It's just that the big runs were not coming as consistently as it is happening now," Khadiwale told ESPNcricinfo. "I am glad things are falling in place now and I hope to continue in the same vein."
The other major factor behind his lack of consistency was captaincy, which was thrust upon him at the tender age of 21. Ever since Hrishikesh Kanitkar's relationship with the state association's top bosses turned sour, Maharashtra seem to have experimented too much with leadership and team selection. As a result, in 2009-10, when Khadiwale was perhaps too young for such responsibility, he was entrusted with it. "You had to think of not just your batting but also about all other things, so it may have affected me a little," Khadiwale said. "Once I was relieved of the captaincy, I have been able to concentrate much more on my batting."
Over the past eight seasons, Khadiwale had given glimpses of his talent. Except for his debut first-class season, in 2006-07, he hasn't had a season without at least one century. But he hasn't been able to convert his starts into big hundreds. This is the first time that he has managed to score more than two hundreds in a season.
Khadiwale said the presence of Surendra Bhave - the former Maharashtra stalwart who was Khadiwale's mentor ever since he was child - as the team's coach has helped a lot. "He has always been supportive and some of the small tips that he gives helps us a lot. Since he has also been an opener, he understands my game very well," Khadiwale said.
Bhave said while there is no doubt about Khadiwale's technique, he had been conditioning him mentally. "He has got the most fluent technique of all our batsmen and it has reflected into his performance," Bhave said. "[But] before the season, we had to prepare him mentally for greater responsibility, and he has delivered by carrying [the team] on his shoulders."
Khadiwale said that he has "stopped setting targets" for himself. "All I am thinking of right now is to spend as much time at the wicket as I can. If I can do that, the runs will obviously follow."
If he can convert his words into action, by the end of the season Khadiwale would have done a world of good not only for himself but also for Maharashtra, who are looking to be promoted from the lowest rung of the Ranji Trophy.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo