It was arguably the best batting pitch of the tourney so far, and India B’s top order had provided a sound foundation for a big score.
The team was just two wickets down after 38 overs; the stage was set for Nitish Rana, who had by then reached his half-century, to set Ferozeshah Kotla alight with his fireworks to sign off. Dinesh Karthik, batting on seven, could also have joined the party.
But if any impetus was provided to the innings in the last 10 overs, it was by Kedar Jadhav (41, 25b, 2X4, 2X6), who was playing his first competitive match since having been troubled by a hamstring injury in the Asia Cup final against Bangladesh. The enterprising innings played by the nuggety batsman rescued his team after seamer Vijay Shankar claimed three wickets in quick succession – dismissing Karthik, Ankit Bawne and R. Ashwin.
While Karthik fell prey to a leg-side trap laid out by the fielding team, Bawne and Ashwin departed trying to hit out. Bawne, off the first ball he faced, squirted the bowler to mid-on, and Ashwin, in search of a boundary, was caught by the square-leg fielder.
Jadhav, however, applied a different approach. He took plenty of singles on offer – 11 in his innings in total – off nudges, drives, taps and the like. That he wasn’t hindered by his injury any longer was evident when he ran singles as well as twos with ease.
After the contest, he elaborated his strategy in the middle. “When I walked in to bat, I spoke to Dinesh [Karthik], who was saying that 260-270 would be a good total (261 was the highest team total at this venue before this contest). I saw that it was a run-a-ball game; especially on such wickets you cannot play all the shots. You have to figure out what sort of shots you can pull off, and what sort of risks are required. If you need 40 runs off 48 balls, you need not play big shots. You can run, run hard, and eventually you will get a boundary or a six,” he said.
The twos were plenty as well. Off the fast bowlers operating in the death overs, he gently guided balls into gaps in the field, most of them square on the leg-side as the predominant length being bowled was short-of-length. In the final over, he took three back-to-back braces.
Fours and sixes weren’t in short supply either. First, he attacked the expensive legspinner Rahul Chahar, smiting him to long-on for six off a full delivery.
Off fast bowler Gurbani, he was clever. In the 48th over, he went down the track and tickled the bowler fine on the leg side past the wicketkeeper. Off another short-of-length delivery, this time on the off-side, he played a dab, bisecting the short third-man and backward point fielders for another boundary.
Jadhav collected another six in the next over, pulling seamer Umar Nazir fine on the leg side.
“It was difficult [to hit boundaries towards the sight-screen]. There was no speed off the wicket also. We have to find out a way; if we’re bowling short, you have to find a way to score runs. You cannot force yourself to go against them. You have to think practically,” he recalled.
Overall, he had five twos in his innings, and two fours and two sixes, besides the singles. And the strike-rate - a healthy 164. The run-rate climbed from 5.23 in the 42 over, when he came in to bat, to 5.86 after 50 overs.
Later, he bowled his unique off-spinners, giving away 41 runs in his five overs; it cancelled out the impact of his batting adventure, perhaps perfectly poignantly. His team went down in the contest.
Jadhav, joined the India A squad late on Wednesday night, but later on Thursday during the match, he was surprised to know of his omission from the Indian team for the final three ODIs against West Indies.
He would have been hoping that his performance, in the presence of two of three national selectors -- Devang Gandhi and Sarandeep Singh – here would make a difference, it was not to be.
“I have to see why they have not picked me. But if I am not there then I will go back and focus on the first Ranji Trophy game,” he said, clearly disappointed at the news. Maharashtra plays defending champion Vidarbha in its opening game in Pune starting November 1. Jadhav had been a late inclusion to replace Prithvi Shaw, who flew back home on Thursday morning.