In the longest format of the game, if you are a batsmen, you are often judged by the number of hundreds you score. That is the first level of screening, so as to speak. Once a batsman passes this level, the next one gets tougher. How many big hundreds – 150+ or double centuries? If a batsman has a handful, he falls under the category of highly respected batsmen who can score ‘daddy hundreds’. There is one more category, that has a select few members in Test cricket, and a comparatively larger number in domestic cricket – the 300 club. It isn’t very often a batsman gets an opportunity to enter this club, he will try his level best to not make a single error.
Rajasthan Royals’ Manan Vohra scored the first triple century of his career a few days ago. Featuring in the Dr. (Capt) JK Thimmappiah Memorial Tournament in Karnataka, Vohra opened the innings for DY Patil against the Vidarbha Cricket Association side. We caught up with Vohra after his marathon, unbeaten 353, and he ran us through his approach and his mindset through the remarkable knock.
“Scoring a triple century is an amazing feeling because such things don’t happen often in your career. This was the first time I got to this milestone, and am really happy about it. I can’t describe in words, how I feel about the knock. “
Vohra opened for DY Patil and had to see off the new ball before bringing his natural game to the fore. “Being an opener, I started my innings very cautiously, as the ball was seaming and there was a different kind of bounce off the surface. Once I got in, I started to attack, as that’s my game, I’m a stroke-player. He ensured that he didn’t drop his guard or take anything lightly. “However, when you are on the verge of scoring big runs, you have to be cautious throughout your innings; you can’t just give your wicket away easily. You got to focus harder.”
When a batsman sores a triple century, he could go through various stages of nervousness. Vohra had to deal with the 90s, 190s and then the 290s, before he got there. But, which one of the nervous nineties had him grind it out? “It was tougher when I was on 298. On 296, I still remember, I took a couple, I was out of breath. I could feel my heart-rate go up.”
Manan’s highest first-class score is 224, for Punjab, and this was new territory for the dashing opener. “I had never got to 298 earlier in my life. I have scored double centuries in the past, but I never got this close to 300. I was excited and nervous at the same time, as it was a massive milestone for me.”
Batsmen tend to get lazy or look to play more freely after crossing the first three-figure milestone, but that is not Manan Vohra. “After crossing 100, batsmen often make mistakes. They try to do something fancy. Once you’ve crossed the landmark, I feel that only you can get out by playing a loose shot. There is a low chance that a very good ball will be responsible for your wicket.” He stuck in there like a leech, played his shots, but didn’t lose his focus. “You just have to stay in the zone you were in, before you got to three figures and not play fancy shots. That will help you score many more runs.”
When you are on your feet for so long, with just a couple of lengthy breaks, it can take a toll on your mind and body. Vohra had to concentrate hard throughout his knock “A batsman always needs to maintain sharp levels of concentration when batting for so long because there could be a point when you will get mentally tired; physically as well.”
With each word coming out of Vohra’s mouth, one felt like this was a good masterclass on how to build an innings, consolidate and take it beyond the 100-run mark, and then take advantage of the situation. “You have to watch the same ball again and again, as batting is all about watching each and every ball. One ball can take your wicket and change things for you. Therefore, you really have to maintain that extra level of concentration if you have to score big runs; otherwise you may lose it all. If you lose your concentration, you never know when you could receive a good ball or play a loose shot.
Openers have the unique opportunity to face the new ball, and if they hang in there, they get to face the old ball too. “The new ball is always challenging. As an opener, you may not know much about the conditions, the wicket and the bowlers. Once you get in as an opener, the old ball makes it easier for you to bat; you can just smash them around.”
Once you are settled, there is little doubt that batsmen enjoy staying in the middle and facing whatever challenge is thrown at them by the fielding team. “The fun part in batting for long hours is that you get so used to the wicket that you can go after the bowling and dominate the opposition. You can even try some new shots because you are so well set that you are seeing the ball very clearly.”
A marathon knock teaches you a lot, reckons Manan. It’s something he’s done for the first time and he has walked out with wiser. “The greatest learning I’ve received after this knock is that ‘patience is the key. The more patient you are, the more the chances of you being among the runs. When you lose patience, you throw your wicket away. If you are in, and you are patient, you will tend to get runs more often than not.”
There is another batsman, who is hungry for runs, on the other side of the planet – Steve Smith. Vohra has shared the Rajasthan Royals dressing room with the Aussie, also the team’s skipper, and has words of appreciation on his outstanding return to Test cricket. “I think Steve Smith is the best in the business. We’ve seen him in the past and the way he’s batting now in his comeback Test for Australia. The Ashes is very important to the two teams, and to get twin hundreds only makes me think of these words – he is the legend.”
We’ve all heard about Smith shadow practising in the hotel room, or bouncing the ball of his bat, tapping the bat on the floor, etc. Let’s just say, he is obsessed with cricket. Vohra shares some instances from the IPL season shedding more light on Smith’s dedication for the game. “He makes batting look so simple, so easy. But, behind that, there are those extra hours of batting that he puts in. I remember, during the IPL as well, being a part of Rajasthan Royals, Smith would go early on matchdays. He would reach the ground and face many balls for hours and hours. I think that is the special part of his work ethic. He is very determined and very committed, and is always hungry for runs. He is the best Test player in the world right now.”
It does feel great to have batsmen of this calibre in the Royals set-up. Vohra is hungry for runs too, and can take bowlers apart once he is set. This knock will give him all the confidence before the domestic season kicks off later this month.