Mayank Markande began his first-class career by hitting 68 not out batting at No. 9 for Punjab, taking them from 272 for 7 to 414. After that, though, he crossed 20 only once - across formats - and never faced more than 40 balls in an innings. Until Thursday, the second day of the Duleep Trophy 2019-20 final in Bengaluru.
India Green had sunk to 112 for 8 against India Red, but Markande's career-best unbeaten 76 took them to 231, with a 60-run partnership for the ninth wicket followed by a 59-run stand for the tenth. To accomplish that, Markande had to find batting chops that he had rarely shown, guts it out against a trio of fast bowlers with their tails up, but most crucially of all: weather a verbal barrage from his "best friend" Ishan Kishan, stationed behind the stumps.
"He doesn't have much strength in his arms, it won't go that far," Kishan called out loudly, telling the long-off fielder to not stay very deep. He repeated that instruction to long-on. Further into the over, he asked the fielder at cover to also come in, and then said loudly, "Khelne ka mann nahin hai bhai ko! (He doesn't look like he's in the mood to really play)."
The cameras showed Markande sporting a smile through it all. What the microphone didn't pick up, however, was the legspinner's rejoinder to his buddy. "We are very good friends, we're best friends in fact," Markande told ESPNcricinfo over the telephone after the second day's play. "My voice wasn't recorded on the mic, but we were bantering from the start. I was telling him, 'I don't want to hit. I am going to make you field all day'. He was telling me that I don't have the strength, and calling fielders closer. I told him, 'Call them wherever you want, I'm not going to hit'.
"It was all in good spirits. In fact, I'm out for dinner with him right now!"
The friendship between a Jharkhand wicketkeeper-batsman and a Punjab legspinner [or perhaps he has done enough to merit the 'legspinning allrounder' tag now] started a while ago.
"We have been playing against each other since Under-16," Markande said. "We have been together in NCA camps, and then at Mumbai Indians also we were together. We have also played together on quite a few tours for India A."
That it was a friend doing the sledging can work both ways - you can lose concentration easier, or you can find it easier to shrug off. For Markande, the latter clearly applied. He didn't bat like a tailender. He was getting behind the line of the ball, he was stepping out to get to the pitch of it to defend, and he worked the percentages superbly with nudges and glides.
Remarkably, he didn't even try to farm the strike to get to a half-century - a landmark that bowlers value highly if they come close to, especially if their batting colleagues have failed. When he was on 47, he had just lost the company of Tanveer Ul-Haq to a swinging yorker from Sandeep Warrier on the last ball of the 58th over, to leave Green nine down. The first ball of the 59th over, Markande nudged a single and exposed No. 11 Ankit Rajpoot to potentially five balls from Jaydev Unadkat, who had been Red's most incisive bowler.
"I wasn't thinking of my fifty then, it was just that every run was important, and there was one run to be taken [on that ball]. I have seen Ankit and he can defend the ball, so I thought he would be able to handle it," Markande said. "I was feeling good after this knock because the conditions were tough. They had good fast bowlers too, so I also felt I played well and with control, and was in good touch. To see through those spells from the fast bowlers, who were bowling really well, was a confidence booster."
Rajpoot proved resilient in a tenth-wicket stand that lasted 14.1 overs, and Markande eventually got to his half-century with his fifth boundary. Rajpoot ended up with his own first-class best too, scoring 30 before he was finally dismissed, also the second-highest score of the innings. While Green still didn't have a great total on a pitch that was playing considerably easier than it had on day one, they were in much healthier shape thanks to Markande's efforts.
To cap a good day personally, he also added the wicket of a fluent Karun Nair in the final session. The battle he will relish in the middle, though, is when Kishan comes out to bat.
"The banter will keep going on," he said with a laugh. "I'll speak till he's batting, this will go on with him."

Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo