The free jazz of Samad Fallah's bowling
In the middle of his second over on Saturday morning, Samad Fallah came to a halt halfway through his run-up. Most fast bowlers, in that situation, would have turned around, walked back to the top of their mark, and started again. Fallah simply resumed running from where he had stopped.
Over the course of the 16 overs he delivered in dismissing seven Bengal batsmen at the Holkar Stadium, Fallah's run-up was a wild and unpredictable thing, seemingly without a fixed starting point.
"When I start, I do mark my run-up," Fallah says. "But as my bowling goes on, sometimes I try to surprise them, don't let the batsman get ready, make my run-up short. But run-up is not in my brain. I can run from anywhere and I can bowl. With my run-up I've played lots. I've run zig-zag also. To take wickets in first-class cricket I've done so many things."
A lot of bowlers nowadays use a measuring tape to mark out their run-ups. For them, achieving rhythm is a matter of scientific precision. If rhythm is an ingredient in Samad Fallah's bowling, it is probably the rhythm of free jazz. His run-up, which begins with a two-second shuffle on the spot, barely contributes any momentum to his action, which is all shoulder and whirring arm, culminating in a Rafael Nadal grunt.
The grunts grew louder with each ball - and were frequently followed by desperate appeals for lbw - over the course of Fallah's first spell on Saturday, which spanned ten overs. "The first spell is 10 or nine always," he says. "Eight is minimum." When he came back for his second spell, he replaced Harshad Khadiwale, who had taken an unexpected wicket in a three-over spell of gentle medium pace.
Khadiwale might only be an occasional bowler, but his textbook run-up and delivery stride spoke of his rigorous schooling in the game. He has played for Maharashtra's Under-14, U-15, U-17, U-19 and U-22 teams.
Fallah's action is as much a product of his upbringing as Khadiwale's is. He's never played age-group cricket for Maharashtra. In his early 20s, he gave up cricket for two years, apart from the odd tennis-ball match, and worked behind the counter of the Irani café established by his grandfather, and run by his father, in Pune.
Fallah kept taking wickets in tennis-ball cricket, though, and found himself a place in the Poona Club team. Big wicket hauls in the Maharashtra Cricket Association's invitational league - "73 wickets in nine games," he says, "which is a record still" - earned him a call-up to the Maharashtra team at the start of the 2007-08 season. At that point, his father didn't even know he was playing serious cricket. Fallah called him from Chennai, where Maharashtra - he wasn't in the playing XI yet - were playing Tamil Nadu.
"I called him, and I said I got selected for Ranji Trophy, and he said, 'No no, you can't be selected'," Fallah says. "I had to call from a landline number, and then he realised, okay, he's in Chennai."
A painting of Fallah in his bowling action, with a selection of his first-class statistics, now adorns a wall in his father's café. "It was not me who asked for it," Fallah says. "My dad actually wanted to surprise me, so suddenly I saw a picture that was not looking like me at all."
The left-arm seamer on Café Alpha's wall doesn't have the shoulder-length hair, the soul-patch, or the studded earlobes. It might well be a painting of Irfan Pathan. The stats, moreover, need an update. The wall says 134 wickets in 34 first-class matches; Fallah now has 198 in 50.
In his debut season, Fallah took 20 wickets, at an average of 23.90. Since then, he hasn't gone a single first-class season without crossing 25 wickets. He reached that mark for 2013-14, during the course of his seven-for on Saturday.
At the start of the season, when he took just two wickets in Maharashtra's first three matches, that number seemed a distant prospect. Left out of the game against Andhra, Fallah came roaring back. In his last five matches - he only bowled 9.4 overs in one of them, a spin-dominated game in Assam - he's taken 26 wickets.
"After [the first] three games I was not feeling good, then I was not picked for the next game," Fallah says. "I was supposed to be rested for the other game also, but I got a chance because somehow the selectors felt that one game was enough for me to get back. If I would have dragged myself that time, I would have been worse, because I was not in good shape also in my mind. I was doubting myself.
"What my bowling is all about is believing. I kept on believing in my instincts and the things that I do, bowling around, over [the wicket] … to enjoy myself. Basically I enjoy my bowling, which I was not doing in the first phase. After one break I realised, okay, now I can't stay out of the game also. So I came back against Kashmir and I took four and that's how I got back. So it was good actually, what happened. Sometimes you need that kick, that 'okay, I'm not doing that good.' And you see your players, your team, wanting you. Everyone was calling me, the team, coaches, selectors, saying they need you. The team wanted me. Me being a character also, they need me somewhere."
Fallah says he is a talkative, needling presence in the dressing room and on the field. "Normally I talk too much," he says. "I express too much."
It shows in his bowling too, in his urgent, hustling style, always at the batsman, probing away from different angles. It shows in his frantic appealing. He might yet cop a fine for the amount of lung-power he expended against Bengal. But, you suspect, he'll accept it with a grin and carry on appealing as raucously as ever.
A couple more successful appeals will take him to 200 wickets. It might also bring about a long-overdue update to the stats on Café Alpha's wall. "The first hundred took only 21 matches," he says, alert as always to his own statistics. "I've played almost 30 matches after that, so I guess I'm slowing down."
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo