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Feature

Teenager Musheer Khan shows his range to rescue Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy quarter-final

He dominated attacks in the U-19 World Cup, but here he made an excellent century by being patient and cutting out risk

Vishal Dikshit
Vishal Dikshit
23-Feb-2024
Mumbai's Musheer Khan finished day one of the Ranji Trophy quarter-final against Baroda on 128 not out  •  PTI

Mumbai's Musheer Khan finished day one of the Ranji Trophy quarter-final against Baroda on 128 not out  •  PTI

A bear hug for the older son last week and an equally big embrace for the younger one on Friday.
If Naushad Khan's tearful reactions to Sarfaraz Khan's Test debut in Rajkot spread like wildfire on social media last week, his emotional hug for Musheer Khan this evening after his maiden first-class hundred went unnoticed despite it happening in a metropolitan like Mumbai.
Musheer, just 18, was playing only his fourth first-class game and it was a Ranji Trophy quarter-final for Mumbai at home against Baroda. After winning the toss, Mumbai found themselves at a precarious 90 for 4 on a turning and bouncing track. Without the injured Shreyas Iyer (back spasms) and Shivam Dube (side strain), without Sarfaraz (on national duty), and with an out-of-form captain Ajinkya Rahane (averaging 13.11 this season), the weight of Mumbai's expectations fell on Musheer's young shoulders as he walked out at No. 3.
He had recently returned from the Under-19 World Cup in South Africa, where he was the second-highest scorer while averaging 60 and striking at 98.09. Musheer had to score quickly there because it was white-ball cricket, but when confronted with a tricky pitch at home, he needed to find a different gear.
"Taiyyari to Abbu har baar red ball ki hi karwate hain (Our father has always prepared us for the red ball)," Musheer said after the day's play. "We keep preparing with that and after returning from the Under-19 World Cup I had a few sessions with the red ball. So I was prepared for this."
With Baroda's spinners, led by the experienced Bhargav Bhatt, exploiting the dampness in the pitch, Musheer knew he had to be tight. He relied on his technique to play the ball late and stayed away from any thoughts of playing the big shots. Unlike Sarfaraz, who is known for his aggressive batting, and even himself at the Under-19 World Cup where he struck eight sixes (the most for India), Musheer took care to keep the ball along the ground, although he did indulge in some audacious sweeps.
"I trust my defence more," he said of his shot selection. "I knew that if I would defend and play with the straight bat then I won't get out easily unless one of the balls suddenly took off from the pitch."
Call it patience or nerves of being in the nineties, Musheer spent a good few minutes and nine balls on 96 before he finally breached the three-figure mark with a single towards backward square leg to raise his arms. Just like Sarfaraz had punched the air from the non-striker's end when his India team-mate Yashasvi Jaiswal had crossed 200 in Rajkot last week, Musheer's team-mate Hardik Tamore punched the air for his partner's landmark. Tamore had redefined what's called "digging in" in a four-day game. In their unbroken stand of 106 for the sixth wicket, Tamore had gone from 4 off 43 to 15 off 90 at tea and 30 off 163 at stumps, with 137 dot balls.
"My mindset was to talk to my batting partners to bat the whole day," Musheer said. "Whether you score a hundred or double-hundred, it's not easy to bat on this wicket, you'll never be set. Some [balls] were turning, some were straightening. You can score boundaries only when you get those kind of balls so we were managing with singles.
"He was not as settled early on but he defended his way through it and things got easier," Musheer said of Tamore's knock. "We had planned to bat through the day and kept targets of scoring five-six runs at a time.
"Poora 90 overs khelne ka koshish tha, sir ne kaha tha khade rehna (The aim was to bat the whole 90 overs, that's what the coach Omkar Salvi had told us)."
After three first-class games last season in which his highest score was 42, Musheer says he has learnt to take things step by step and not think too far ahead. He was just 17 then and maybe a bit too desperate to prove himself. In Mumbai lingo, it was "ghai" which means to hurry things up.
"When I made my debut last year, I was thinking too far ahead," he said. Ghai karne ko zyaada dekh raha tha (I was racing ahead for no reason). And since they were my first few matches, there was some pressure. So this time I'm not thinking much and reacting to the ball.
"I don't think much now about many things, the focus is to play my normal game. If I get out early, it's fine, otherwise I want to bat big."
Within a matter of 10 days the brothers have rewarded their father for the years of hard work he has put in with them. As Musheer gets a massage at the end of the day, a visibly tired Naushad waits outside on a bench before he can meet his son properly again. Naushad is feeling the fatigue from the constant travel he has to endure, whether to Hyderabad for the BCCI awards or Rajkot for a Test debut or Uttar Pradesh back home once in a while.
But what might give him instant relief is that the rewards of all the hard work has just started to show.

Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo