Gugale, Bawne give Maharashtra bright start

An unbroken partnership of 249 between Swapnil Gugale and Ankit Bawne put Maharashtra in command on the first day of its Group B encounter against Delhi.

Ankit Bawne gave a solid display of compact batting in his unbeaten 120.   -  Vivek Bendre (File Photo)

In the absence of Kedar Jadhav (away on national duty), stand-in captain Swapnil Gugale and batting mainstay Ankeet Bawne were expected to shoulder the additional responsibility if Maharashtra was to stretch Delhi in its Ranji Trophy Group A game. The duo couldn’t have asked for a better outing than Thursday’s as their uninterrupted 249-run partnership for the third wicket put Maharashtra in command.

> Scorecard

After electing to bat, Gugale and Bawne made it a memorable day as they made the Delhi attack toil at the Wankhede Stadium and end the day at 290 for two. Gugale was unbeaten on 152 and Bawne on 120. If the duo can see off the new ball on the second morning, they can put Delhi under pressure for the first time in the season.

Delhi was without its strike bowler Pradeep Sangwan, who was ruled out of this fixture due to side strain.

When Bawne joined Gugale in the middle, Navdeep Saini had reduced Maharashtra to 41 for two and fears of a batting collapse loomed large. Had Gugale not been given a reprieve on 38 by his Delhi counterpart Unmukt Chand, who dropped a regulation catch at first slip off left-arm pacer Pawan Suyal, Maharashtra could have been under the mat.

However, the aggressive opener quickly restored his composure and continued to drive as flawlessly as he had been off the new-ball combination of Saini and Parvinder Awana. He completed his fifty with a pull off Awana in the 19th over for his eighth boundary and then scored off the left-arm spin duo of Manan Sharma and Varun Sood.

Batsmen dominate

With the strip playing no devils, Bawne and Gugale continued to flourish. Bawne slog-swept Sood into the stands over widish long-on in his first over. But the shot of the day came from the willow of Gugale who lofted Sharma into the stands over extra-cover as they trudged to lunch.

Gugale was in with a chance to raise his hundred in the first session but slowed down in the last half hour to head into the lunch break on 88. He did slow down a little bit in the second session but raised his bat with an exquisite square drive soon after Bawne had gone past his fifty.

Thereafter, till tea, while Bawne did bulk of the scoring, Gugale went into a shell to preserve his wicket. That forced a false stroke but he was lucky as Nitish Rana failed to latch on to a simple catch at deep mid-off to deprive Sood of his first wicket.

The last session saw both the batsmen literally toying with the bowling. While the drives flew seamlessly from Gugale’s willow, Bawne gave a solid display of compact batting, even after competing the hundred with a single - the hallmark of his innings - in the evening session.

Delhi may have had little to gain the whole day but Saini had given them a bright start. The lanky right-arm pacer’s opening spell of 7-1-24-2 raised Delhi’s hopes of continuing its good work since its victory over Assam. The pick of his two wickets was that of Harshad Khadiwale in the fifth over. After being driven for a boundary through the empty covers region, Saini asked captain Chand to close the gap with a fielder, but Chand refused and asked his bowler to persist with the same plan. It paid dividends three balls later, with Khadiwale’s attempted drive converted to an edge straight to Chand at second slip.

Fit batsmen

Minutes after preserving his wicket all through the day, Maharashtra stand-in captain Swapnil Gugale returned to the field after taking a quick shower. While his muscular partner Ankeet Bawne was undergoing a stretching routine close to the boundary ropes, Gugale was asked to return to the dressing room and he climbed the 30-odd steps to the dressing room as if he was fresh as ever in the morning.

“We are not as fit as him (Ankeet) but we have been following a prescribed diet and fitness plan. That’s kept us going,” Gugale said with a smiling face.

Bawne, the more experienced of the duo at first-class level, accepted the complement and attributed the drastic improvement in his fitness to his two-month stint for Jolly Rovers Cricket Club in the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association first division league.

“The average age (of the team) is 24-25, that’s really helping,” Bawne said, adding Gugale asked him to not push him for twos and threes towards the end of the day’s play. “When I am not playing a match, I do the gym twice a day, with a bit of running. I have been playing in Chennai in real hot conditions. Besides the competitive nature of the league, I trained in extreme weather conditions of 40-45 degrees. That's helped a lot.”

Their unbroken 249-run association was Maharashtra’s highest-ever partnership against Delhi, the seven-times Ranji Trophy champion. Gugale was delighted to have marked his second successive outing against Delhi with a 150-plus score. That too when he had to carry the additional mantle of captaincy.

“The first match didn’t go our way but it’s a long season, so we knew things will fall in place. Ankeet and I knew that we have to step up, especially since K.J. (Kedar Jadhav) had joined the Indian team. We were slightly lower on the experience front but we set our sights to play the day out and keep the team in the game. The captaincy also added responsibility on my shoulders,” he said.

Brief scores (Group B):

> Assam v Rajasthan

> Jharkhand v Karnataka

> Odisha v Saurashtra