Swapnil Gugale and Ankit Bevna added an unbeaten 594-run stand for the third wicket against a hapless Delhi side    PTI
Swapnil Gugale and Ankit Bawne added an unbeaten 594-run stand for the third wicket against a hapless Delhi side PTI

Just two days back, headline in the sports section of a leading Indian newspaper s website read Delhi confident vs minnows Maharashtra ahead of their Ranji Trophy fixture. There was nothing wrong with it, especially if you look at Maharashtra s performance in their Ranji Trophy 2016-17 opener, where they lost to a lowly Jharkhand by 6 wickets. The only silver lining for them in that game was their skipper Kedar Jadhav, who hit fifties in both innings. But Jadhav left his side for the national duty against New Zealand in upcoming ODIs, leaving them in further trouble. Absence of regulars Samad Fallah, Sangram Atitkar and Rohit Motwani further made them a depleted squad, by choice of course, as they all were left out.

But once the match went underway, minnows Maharashtra not just punched above their weight, but in fact delivered a knockout punch to heavyweights Delhi, who did not know what hit them. Stand-in skipper Swapnil Gugale and middle-order batsman Ankit Bawne stitched a record-breaking unbeaten 594 run partnership for the third wicket and took their team to an imposing 2 for 635 declared. While Gugale scored an imperious 351 not out, Bawne got a majestic unbeaten 258; needless to say, their highest First-Class scores.

Before we move on to what the men had to say, let us look at the records that went down today.

– This was the second highest partnership for any wicket in First-Class cricket. Only Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene s effort of 624 runs stands better than theirs.

– This was the highest partnership in the history of Ranji Trophy. The previous best of Vijay Hazare and Gul Mohammad, which came for Baroda against Holkar in 1946-47, was bettered by the duo of Gugale and Bawne.

– Gugale s triple-ton was the seventh by a captain in the history of Ranji Trophy. Also, his 351 not out became the seventh highest score in the history of the premier domestic tournament.

Highest partnerships for any wicket

Wicket

Stand

Batsman 1

Batsman 2

Team

Against

Venue

Season

3

624

Kumar Sangakkara

287

Mahela Jayawardene

374

Sri Lanka

South Africa

SSC

2006

3

594*

Swapnil Gugale

351*

Ankit Bawne

258*

Maharashtra

Delhi

Wankhede

2016-17

2

580

Rafatullah Mohmand

302*

Aamer Sajjad

289

WPDA

SSGC

Sheikhupura

2009-10

4

577

Vijay Hazare

288

Gul Mohammad

319

Baroda

Holkar

Baroda

1946-47

 

Highest individual scores in Ranji Trophy

Score

Batsman

Team

Against

Venue

Season

443*

BB Nimbalkar

Maharashtra

Kathiawar

Poona

1948-49

377

Sanjay Manjrekar

Bombay

Hyderabad

Wankhede

1990-91

366

MV Sridhar

Hyderabad

Andhra

Secunderabad

1993-94

359*

Vijay Merchant

Bombay

Maharashtra

Brabourne

1943-44

353

VVS Laxman

Hyderabad

Karnataka

Chinnaswamy

1999-00

352

Cheteshwar Pujara

Saurashtra

Karnataka

Rajkot

2012-13

351*

Swapnil Gugale

Maharashtra

Delhi

Wankhede

2016-17

340

Sunil Gavaskar

Bombay

Bengal

Wankhede

1981-82

Even as plenty of records were rewritten, the milestone men were themselves unaware of it. When we caught up with Gugale post-match, the Maharashtra skipper admitted had he known that they were on the verge of beating the all-time record, they would have gone on. We were not aware of that record. We did get the feeling we were passing milestones, but I had no clue we were so close to a world-record milestone! We got to know only after the declaration, Gugale told us. When asked whether he would have gone for the record if given a chance, and the 25-year-old replied in affirmative: Yes, I guess. Chances like this do not come every day, and we were only 30 runs away, Gugale said.

Maharashtra are by no means tyros. Neither are Gugale and Bawne novices. But nobody would have punted on the two to get to the record First-Class partnership. Gugale s career, spanning 7 seasons, has seen him make just 17 First-Class appearances. He averaged just under 38 before the innings and did not even have a double-hundred.

Bawne s story was no different. Though he has been the lynchpin of Maharashtra s batting for past few seasons, never had he crossed the 200-run mark before. Interestingly, he is one of those rare players who never took coaching early on in their lives. The 23-year-old batsman, who averages an impressive 52 in First-Class cricket, had once said in an interview with ESPNCricinfo, “I haven’t had any personal coach. Whatever I’ve learned is from TV, from watching matches, and from state camps. You get the chance to play with experienced players, I’ve attended a lot of camps at the NCA, matches are coming on TV continuously, so I’ve learned small-small things.”

The first coaching he ever got was when he was picked for Maharashtra Under-15s. This was when he came under the wings of former Surendra Bhave, who nurtured him and played an important role in his progress. In 2011, he was named as the captain of India Under-19 squad for a quadrangular tournament in Vishakhapatnam. However, a discrepancy in his age on the certificate and passport saw him getting dropped from the squad even as he pleaded it was the mistake of his passport agent. It was a massive loss for Bawne, as he missed out on being a part of India s victorious Under-19 World Cup team, let alone being its captain.

The guy who replaced him Unmukt Chand went on to become a star with a fancy IPL contract and a few endorsements under his belt. But this did not deter Bawne, as he went about his business unperturbed.

He scored 603 runs at 60.30 in 2012-13, 731 runs at 66.45 in 2013-14, 598 at 46 in 2014-15 and 505 at 45.90 in the previous season of Ranji Trophy. In all these years, he emerged as a mainstay of Maharashtra s batting. He started this particular season as one of team s senior batsmen, who needed to take extra responsibility. Bawne did not disappoint. He scored 78 in the first innings of Ranji Trophy opener against Jharkhand and followed it up with 258 not out in this game.

***

Coming back to the historic partnership, it was not easy at all to bat in the hot and humid conditions of Mumbai; but Gugale and Bawne batted almost for two full days, showing no signs of fatigue. In such long partnerships, communication between the partners becomes an important aspect. When we asked Gugale, he agreed: We kept talking to each other throughout to keep each other motivated, he said. What satisfied Gugale the most about the effort was that it came against a side of Delhi s stature. Delhi are a strong side. 600 is a big total against any opposition, but if it against a side of the stature of Delhi, it is definitely satisfactory, he said with a sense of pride.

The mountain-of-an-effort from Gugale and Bawne could not have come at a more opportune time. Their side had lost the regular skipper Jadhav to Team India while a few who had been around for last few seasons were not deemed fit for selection this time, which meant the nucleus of the side had changed. The defeat against Jharkhand in the opening match of the season only compounded the problems for the young team, which was in dire need of motivation.

And there it came, in the form of record-breaking partnership, an effort which may change side s fortunes this season. I am sure that will happen. We have started with a defeat this time, but that does not mean anything. We will definitely turn things around this time, Gugale said.

This marathon effort from the two batsmen, which saw them play more than 500 balls each, has come in at the early stages of the tournament, something which augurs well for the side getting ahead in the long tournament. We hope these knocks not just change the fortunes of Maharashtra, but also of the two young batsmen.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)