Shining the Siddhesh way: Profiling Mumbai's crisis-man
A 21-year-old Siddhesh Lad was playing in just his sixth first-class encounter. His team, Mumbai, were struggling at 61/4, in reply to Karnataka's 251. The ball was swinging viciously and Mumbai's chances of gaining a first-innings lead (FIL) were slim.
Lad walked in and, remarkably, batted on for four long hours, tackling whatever the K'taka bowlers threw at him. Stitching a series of crucial partnerships with the lower order batsmen, he single-handedly dragged Mumbai to a FIL. The 168-ball-93 knock, according to the man himself, was the first instance of him saving the team.
Little did he know that it would become his second nature over the years. The list of his rescue-acts is never-ending - against Saurashtra in the 2015-16 Ranji Trophy final, against Hyderabad in the quarterfinals last year, against Baroda in Mumbai's 500th Ranji match.
Today, almost four years since his 'first rescue-act', a Google search gives about 39,000 results for 'Siddhesh Lad saves Mumbai'.
The secret behind all of it?
"Playing at number six or seven, I always get to face such situations, right from my first season. So, I don't actually prepare myself. I've learned a lot from my senior players about how to play in such kind of situations," Lad told Sportskeeda right before the 'Khadoos-army' was set to take on Tripura in a must-win match.
"I'm used to it now," he added.
Mumbai's middle order has misfired this season
Earlier today, on the second day of Mumbai's must-win match against Tripura, they again found themselves in a precarious situation at 77 for 4. In walked the crisis-man, added 146 runs for the fifth wicket with Jay Bista and later breached the three-figure mark himself. Lad's 123 took his overall tally to 613 runs this season, sixth on the top run-scorers list.
Though Siddhesh has had a stellar season so far, it hasn't been as straightforward for Mumbai. They drew four of their five matches and went into their last group stage match against Tripura needing a win to make it to the quarters.
While Prithvi Shaw has taken the tournament by storm at the top of the order, Mumbai have consistently failed to capitalise on solid starts. That, according to Lad, is the reason that they haven't sealed a spot in the knockouts yet.
"The middle order hasn't clicked as much as last season or the season before. Middle and lower middle order need to click. But we're getting in the groove at the right time, so I hope the momentum will come back and we can go with a positive outlook into the knockouts."
"Lucky to share dressing room with greats of the game"
Before making his first-class debut, the now-crisis man, travelled with the Mumbai team for close to two years, witnessing some of the greats of the game go about their business from close quarters.
"I have always been lucky to share the dressing room with some of the biggest names in the sport - Sachin Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane. You get to learn a lot of things from them, work ethics and how to prepare for the game. Very lucky to spend time with the team and such big players before making my debut."
On the coaching front as well, the Mumbaikar has been fortunate to be brought up under the watchful eyes of his father, Dinesh Lad, who is one of the most renowned coaches in the Mumbai cricket circuit and has played a part in shaping up careers of many a cricketers, Rohit Sharma being one of them.
"He is one man who I always go to in my bad phase. Helps me a lot when I'm home, if something specific is needed in my game or I need some tips, then we talk about it. One of the main men in my career so far."
At the same time, Siddhesh also spent a considerable time playing under the tutelage of Pravin Amre, who has coached the likes of Ajinkya Rahane and Dinesh Karthik - players with strong technique, something which the 25-year-old seems to have picked up as well.
"(Amre helped me with) A lot of things. There are a lot of players who have been to him or still go to him. I used to go to him when I was young and worked a lot on my technique there. He has had a big influence on my career."
All that coaching and years of hard-work was on show when New Zealand visited India last year. In a tour game at the Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi, Lad smacked the Kiwi bowlers for eight fours and seven sixes and finished with an unbeaten 100 off 99 balls. This knock, right here, is a testament to Siddhesh's ability to play at the top level.
"Rohit Sharma is someone I can talk to whenever I feel like"
Indian opener and Siddhesh's father's pupil, Rohit Sharma, has been watching him play from a young age. The duo have played alongside each other for Mumbai as well. Rohit, being the senior, has been guiding Lad whenever required and as the middle-order batsman revealed, 'he can approach Rohit whenever he needs an advice'.
"We're good friends, when he's around I go and talk to him about my technique. Even if he picks up something, he'll come to me and tell whatever he feels is going wrong with my technique and mental game. Someone I can talk to whenever I feel like."
IPL has made the state teams a lot better
Siddhesh was also a part of the Rohit-led Mumbai Indians squad in the IPL but couldn't get a chance in the XI. However, he believes that the opportunity to share space with the bigger names of the sport helps the domestic players in evolving their game and the approach to it.
This, in turn, has strengthened the state teams and has made the domestic circuit even more competitive.
"After IPL, everyone has been playing well. And every state team has a good infrastructure, good coach, good trainer, so yes, every team has come up with good performances in the past few years. IPL has helped a lot, domestic players get to rub shoulders with international players and learn how they approach a match, work ethics and that helps a lot in improving the game."
Next big step?
The last two-three seasons have seen the middle-order batsman grow from strength to strength. 2728 runs in 38 first-class appearances at an average of 44 with 16 half-centuries and six centuries (updated after today's innings) and the majority of it batting at number six, or sometimes even seven, makes for a brilliant read.
"I've been good at number six or seven but if I get a chance to bat at three or four for Mumbai, I might do even better. I think batting in the top order will help me go one level up," Lad opined.
"It's not that I regret batting lower down the order, because my team needs that.This season I'm batting at five, so it has helped me score more runs," he was quick to add.