Crisis man Lad shows his mettle again
Lad is a very popular surname within Mumbai's cricketing circles. Dinesh Lad discovered his passion for coaching by accident, when a friend invited him to train a few youngsters at his academy 25 years ago. Since then, he has mentored young batsmen from the city, the most famous among them being Rohit Sharma, who turns to him for advice whenever he gets time to take stock of his game in a choc-a-bloc cricket calendar.
While Dinesh fixated himself to help Rohit mature into the batsman he has become, his son Siddhesh, five years junior to Rohit, honed his talent under the tutelage of Pravin Amre at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana. The two trained together and within two years, Siddhesh Lad was scorching the age-group circuit in Mumbai.
His team-mates describe him as one of the most studious members of the squad, his serious demeanour at all times prompting them to urge him to smile, and at times raise his bat when he scores a fifty or a hundred, like they encouraged him to when he walked off for a magnificent 88 off just 101 deliveries. He made the most of a reprieve on 24 - a regulation nick that was put down at slip by Cheteshwar Pujara - but his game awareness and attention to detail on a surface where no batsman was truly settled at any stage stood out as he single-handedly crafted Mumbai's recovery that eventually set the base for a huge lead and a win.
"It was a tough wicket to bat, there was something in it right through the day," he told ESPNcricinfo. "When I went in to bat yesterday, the ball was jagging around. I was coming down late because I was using a heavy bat. I was finding it tough to negate the swing. So when I went out to bat today, I used a light bat; the reaction time was that much lesser, my feet were getting in line too and my bat swing was good. Getting forward and playing through the line became easier and the tendency to edge the ball reduced. So that minor tweak worked to my advantage."
What no scorecard will also reveal was the poise and composure he showed while batting with the last batsman. There were no predetermined strokes and no sense of anxiety on the occasions he could not retain the strike. As the partnership grew, there was also the confidence he placed in Balwinder Sandhu, who had a highest first-class score of 24 prior to this game. After all, it wasn't the first time he had done this.
Time and again, Lad has shown tenacity to bat admirably with the tail. Most times, he has been successful; so successful that his team calls him their "crisis man". The tag sits quite well on his small shoulders because he is unlikely to figure in lists of 'players to watch out for' when opponents sit to plan. But that has not in anyway reduced expectations on him.
He marked his arrival in November 2013, after leading the run charts for Mumbai Under-25 in the CK Nayudu Trophy. In only his second game his mettle came to the fore as he scored fifties against Delhi's attack led by Ashish Nehra. A month later, he held his shape against Karnataka's four-pronged seam attack on a green top in Bangalore. Faced with a deficit of 152 with five wickets down, Lad combined steel with flair to make a combative 93 that nudged Mumbai ahead by a slim margin. While they went on to lose the game, Mumbai had discovered someone they could persist with.
But injuries and illness threatened to cut short his second season. A slip disc kept him out of the last stage of the following season. When he recovered from that, he was struck down by dengue at the start of the 2014-15 season. Eager to make up for lost time - he had also missed out on the India Under-19s bus in 2010 - he returned to action even before he had fully recovered to make 142, a knock that spanned a day and a half, in the Kanga League to once again put himself on the selectors' radar.
He marked his return to first-class cricket after a year with a well-crafted 64 against Bengal, a knock which firmly established his presence. He went on to score 562 runs in 2014-15 - most of them lower down the order - in 13 innings at an average of 43.23. He followed that up with 691 runs this season at 40.64.
"I realise that batting at the position I do, it's tough to get big hundreds, but batting with the lower order is a challenge I relish," he said. "It's a responsibility of a different kind. Sometimes, you go in to bat with the team needing quick runs, at other times you're batting to arrest a slide, other times you're in with the tail. For starters, knowing you enjoy the confidence of the team management helps."
Having established a footing in the first-class format, Lad hopes to grow out of the reputation of just being a long-form player. The proof of his transformation was in full view on Friday as he lay into Saurashtra's frontline seamers against the second new ball, his uninhibited strokeplay displaying another dimension to his all-round game.
Last year, Lad was one of only two Mumbai players - Iyer being the other - to be signed up at the IPL auction. While he didn't get a game, the lessons he learnt just by watching Ricky Ponting, he says, was education. Another solid show in the Irani Cup at home would further strengthen his foothold in a line-up where he has proved to be the calm amidst bashers of the cricket ball.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo