Srinidhi Ramanujam is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo
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The sun only shone sporadically at the Just Cricket Academy on Wednesday, but Hardik Tamore made hay anyway.
The wicketkeeper-batter brightened gloomy Bengaluru with his 115 and drove Mumbai's progress on day two of their Ranji Trophy semi-final against Uttar Pradesh as the team posted a first-innings total of 393. It began as a dull morning, and play was delayed by two hours following heavy overnight rain, forcing the first session to be washed out without a ball bowled.
But once the sun began to emerge, Tamore and Shams Mulani put Mumbai in the driver's seat with a century stand before the bowlers took two early wickets to leave Uttar Pradesh on 25 for 2 at stumps.
It has been quite a few months for Tamore. The 24-year-old from Boisar, which lies in the Palghar district in Maharashtra, led Mumbai in the CK Nayudu U-25 tournament early this year, having also previously captained their U-16, U-19 and U-23 teams. Tamore was down with Covid-19 just before landing in Ahmedabad for the CK Nayudu tournament, before returning to score 391 runs at an average of 35.55 - including a hundred and two fifties.
But when it came to the Ranji Trophy, Tamore had to play the waiting game. The right-hander had played only four first-class matches prior to the Uttar Pradesh game, having made his debut as a specialist batter during the 2019-20 season. Who knew then that the Ranji Trophy wouldn't be held the following season?
However, when the opportunity came his way in an all-important fixture, Tamore grabbed it and made a statement.
"Before the knockouts, when we were in Bombay, he [Tare] told me 'Just express yourself. Don't think much. Just do whatever you have done at the Under-25 level'," Tamore said after the second day's play.
And that is what he did on Wednesday. After bringing up his half-century off 73 balls on Day 1, he was determined to convert it into a big score. He drove through the covers; pulled and hooked with ease; and punished the half-volleys.
File photo - Tamore says Mumbai coach Amol Muzumdar advised him to 'just stay [at the crease] for as long as possible'•Cricket South Africa
His real test came in the first hour after lunch, when Uttar Pradesh's bowlers stuck to a fifth-stump line and hoped to find swing under overcast skies. Once conditions brightened up, though, the fast bowlers toiled as Tamore stitched a solid 113-run partnership with Mulani for the sixth wicket.
"I was confident coming into this game," Tamore said. "I played in an Under-25 tournament recently. All my team-mates, Sarfaraz [Khan] and Amol [Muzumdar, the coach] sir have encouraged me, and sir has always shown faith in me. I just wanted to perform for my team.
"I was just waiting for an opportunity to bat. I did not set a target that I have to score this many runs in this match. My plan was just to play till the end. It was cloudy in the morning and the ball was swinging a lot. So Amol sir asked me to just stay for as long as possible. I didn't want to play any flashy shots, so I relied on my basic cricketing shots."
For all that, though, Tamore stepped away from those basic shots when he was batting on 98. He may have been playing his first first-class game of the season - a semi-final, that too - but when the opportunity arose, he had the confidence to neatly find a gap with a reverse-sweep and pick up the two runs he needed to reach three figures, shortly after tea. He had gotten there in 172 balls.
It was an important knock, enabling Mumbai to post a total of 393 after having been 260 for 5 overnight. They could have scored even more had it not been for a late collapse that saw them lose their last four wickets for just seven runs.
But by then, Tamore had done exactly what he had set out to do: to "use the opportunity if and when that arrives".