It was deja vu at the Arun Jaitley stadium here in the morning on day two of the Ranji Trophy contest between Delhi and Mumbai – fast bowlers were ascendant and top-order batters struggled even as a smattering of onlookers were treated to an excellent exhibition of swing bowling.
Hrithik Shokeen, however, was the thorn in the flesh for Mumbai, thriving in these conditions before being trapped by the short ball for 45 (60b, 9x4) in an interesting phase of play in the latter part of the session.
It appeared that the batters had collectively decided to play their strokes and not put down their shutters even as deliveries went past the outside edge numerous times. Dhruv Shorey set the tone with a clip off the legs for four in the first over, and a couple of sweet drives off Mohit Avasthi, but he failed to deal with a sharp inswinger from the same bowler and lost his off-stump. Nitish Rana, too, got going quickly, hitting cutting and flicking to collect boundaries, but edged behind soon after.
Shokeen, however, soaked in the pressure. He was the understudy during his brief alliance with Shorey, but soon after, started playing strokes as attractive as those of the more accomplished and experienced Shorey. This was just his fourth first-class match, but he seemed to be playing on a different surface that the other batters. His drive through extra cover off left-arm seamer Royston Dias in the 11th over was picture perfect, full of precision and poise. And just three overs later, he made an audacious move, skipping down the track to Avasthi for a drive down the ground. Perhaps he was thinking on his feet as it may have been an attempt to negate the swing that the bowling was getting.
He pulled out his upper cut, too, and used it well against Dias. The signs were ominous for Mumbai as nothing seemed to be troubling him anymore. When Deshpande came from around the wicket and dug it in short, it made for a strange sight for a bowler who had been bowling on a good length since the start of the day. Shokeen treated Deshpande with disdain, playing an upper cut for a boundary and then a fierce pull shot for four.
Next ball, he tried to pull again, and edged behind. It was a tame dismissal to his innings, and ended what seemed likely to blossom into a valuable ton. The rest of the day was in main about dour defensive prods and nudges. The short ball trap was set up again, much later in the day, but it didn’t work: Vaibhav Rawal top-edged Deshpande when on 101 – after hitting three fours in a row – but it was a no-ball.
This is what captain Himmat Singh had to say about Shokeen’s innings: “He played a very valuable innings. At No. 3, he is filling a slot for us, and is consistently doing well. He is performing his role well. We don’t need to explain much to him. It’s only his first year; once he matures, he will learn how to convert his starts as well. He can bat.”
Rawal praised him too: “Shokeen has excelled with the bat for us in the last few games as well. He has a counterattacking style of play, and his contributions help us a lot as it becomes easier for us. It’s a great sign that he is doing so well in his very first season. I wish him all the best. I hope he contributes regularly for the team.”