Column | Mayank Yadav's meteoric rise

Mayank Yadav
Mayank Yadav in action against Punjab Kings on his IPL debut. File photo: AFP/Arun Sankar

Even its bitterest of detractors, whose numbers are not inconsiderable, will agree that the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) of the Premier League (IPL) is its ability to throw up amazing talent in each edition. The talent scouts of franchisees taking part in the IPL cast their nets far and wide and tour the entire country looking for up and coming cricketers who can be recruited to their side. The work put in by them have seen many young, and even old players, who, in normal course, did not stand any chance of getting noticed beyond local levels, suddenly getting opportunities to test their wares before the “best and the brightest”. This had brought to national attention a score of new cricketers, some of who have since established themselves in the national side.It may be better to allow him to get some more to get some more exposure at the first-class level before being pushed into the high pressure arena of international cricket.

Though the current edition of IPL is only two weeks old, it has thrown up a new fast bowling sensation within this short span. Mayank Yadav was virtually unknown even to the close observers of domestic cricket in India, when he marked his run up the game between Lucknow Super Giants (LSG) and Punjab Kings (PBKS) at Lucknow on March 30.  But his explosive spell on that day, which saw him pick up three wickets in a jiffy, led to experts sitting up and take notice of this tearaway fast bowler. And when he carved up the middle order of Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) in the next match, critics wasted no time in raving about the discovery of the next fast bowling sensation from India. 

In the match against PBKS, Mayank was brought on to bowl in the 10th over, with the scoreboard reading 102 for no loss and openers Shikar Dhawan and Jonny Bairstow in great form. Mayank started delivering his thunderbolts straightaway and had Bairstow caught in the deep by Marcus Stoinis. He followed this with wickets of Prabhsimran Singh and Jitesh Sharma in his next two overs to have PBKS reeling at 139/3. After this, PBKS were not in the chase and lost the game, which they threatened to win in style at one stage, tamely by a margin of 21 runs. Mayank was touching speed in excess of 150 kilometres per hour through most parts of his spell and all his wickets had come from well-directed short-pitched balls. It was not surprising that he was awarded the  player-of-the-match award for this performance. 

By the time, LSG took the field against RCB, Mayank had ceased being an unknown entity and batsmen were prepared for taking him on. RCB had in their ranks stalwarts such  as Virat Kohli, Faf du Plessis, Glen Maxwell and Cameroon Green. Mayank was introduced into the attack in the stxth over after Kohli had departed. He greeted Maxwell with a bouncer, which the batsman avoided. But the next bouncer was well directed and skidded through faster after pitching. Maxwell shaped for a pull but before he knew, the ball struck the shoulder of his bat and lobbed for an easy catch. In his next over, he got through the defences of Green to knock his stumps out of the ground and followed this  by dismissing Rajat Patidar with another sharp bouncer. He finished with figures of 3/14 runs off 4 overs, thus effectively knocking RCB out of the game. This spell won him the second consecutive player-of-the-match award.

Two consecutive player-of-the-match awards in the IPL is itself a record. And the fact that these were his first two matches in the championship makes it even more special. Hence it was only natural that media went head over heels in trying to find more about this new sensation on the cricketing horizon. And from what they have gathered, some information could be pieced together about Mayank, who is clocking speeds touching 155 kms per hour with ease.

Who exactly is Mayank? He is a 21-year-old fast bowler hailing from Delhi. He made his debut for Delhi against Haryana in a Vijay Hazare 50 overs-a-side game in December, 2021, and picked up three wickets for in that game. This would have been placed under the category of a “nothing out of the ordinary” debut by the observers but for the fact that he was picked up by LSG to be part of their side in the auction preceding IPL 2022. He did not play any match that season nor in the next, when he was down with a ligament injury. He played for Delhi in a Ranji Trophy game against Maharashtra in December, 2022, and returned figures of 2/46 in 17.2 overs’. And, even though he was fully fit, the LSG management did not include him in the side for the first match of this season and he got his opportunity only in the their second game, which was against PBKS. And the rest is history.

Maxwell, who came second best in the battle with Mayank in the match on April 2, has gone on record comparing the bowler with Shaun Tait, the former Aussie speedster, in the “zip” that he is able to generate off the wicket. During his prime, Tait was regarded as the fastest bowler in the world and comparison with him, and that too coming from another Aussie, was very high praise indeed. Almost all observers and pundits are in awe about his smooth bowling action which helps Mayank generate extraordinary pace in the air and off the pitch. For the record, Mayank bowled the fastest ball in this edition of IPL, which was timed at 156.7 kms per hour, in the match against RCB.

Mayank Yadav
Mayank Yadav is pumped up after castling RCB's Cameron Green. File photo: PTI

Mayank’s sudden rise to stardom in the IPL and the pace he generates, brings memories of another tearaway fast bowler who created waves in a previous edition of the same championship a couple of years back. Umran Malik was drafted in to bowl in the nets of Sunrisers Hyderabad during the 2021 edition of the IPL. But an injury to T Natarajan paved the way for his entry to the playing eleven and he had everyone gaping at the speed with which he delivered the ball, bowling at speed in excess of 150 kmph. This earned him a promotion and he was soon bowling in the nets of the national side for 2021 ICC T20 World Cup. Following this, he made his debut in first-class cricket in November, 2021.

Umran was the star of the show during IPL 2022, taking 22 wickets, including a five-wicket haul, which happens only rarely in T20 games. More importantly, he clocked 157 kmph in a game, which made him India’s fastest bowler ever. All this ensured that he was pitchforked into the world of international cricket, playing both T20 Internationals and One-Day Internationals (ODIs). 

However, Umran found success to hard to come by at the international level and, worse, conceded far too many runs on account of loose deliveries, with the result that he lost his place in the national side in both formats within a year after making his debut. He did not do well in IPL 2023 either, picking only five wickets in eight matches. This year, he has so far played in only game and bowled a solitary over, in which he ended up conceding 14 runs. 

Umran Malik
Umran Malik has struggled to get going at the international level. File photo: AFP/Punit Paranjpe

What went wrong with Umran? And how can it be ensured that similar fate does not befall Mayank? Umran’s forte was his pace, on which relied solely to pick up wickets. This can turn into a double-edged weapon as, on unhelpful tracks, batsmen are able to come to terms with speed and attempts by the bowler to generate more pace invariably results in loose deliveries. Hence, fast bowlers develop stock deliveries which they keep bowling to keep the batsmen quiet, besides mastering the art of swing and lateral movement of the ball to help them take wickets. They also devise more than one type of bouncer and add toe-crushing yorkers  to complete their arsenal. This is what fast bowlers who made their mark in international cricket such as Dennis Lillee, Richard Hadlee, James Anderson and Kapil Dev did, with excellent returns.

Without these tools of trade, no fast bowler will be able to survive the challenges of modern day top level cricket, irrespective of the pace he generates. This is also on account of the fact that modern day batsmen are better protected and hence tackle fast bowlers with greater confidence. Besides, the restriction on field placements in white-ball cricket, shorter boundaries and improved quality of equipment in use have helped batsmen to capitalise on scoring opportunities more ruthlessly than their counterparts of the yore. All this places a bowler who relies solely on speed at a  distinct disadvantage. 

The short answer to the second question will be that Mayank must avoid the pitfalls that acted as speed breaker to the career of Umran. He will do well to realise that though hurrying batsmen into their strokes or making them take evasive action to avoid being hit by the ball brings plenty of thrill,  it will not help him to survive in the long run. While speed often describes the character and countenance of a fast bowler, accuracy and ability to maintain line and length invariably yield better returns. Along with this, he must improve his abilities to move the ball in the air and off the pitch, even at the expense of express pace and reserve sheer speed only for exceptional situations. Developing a basket of wicket-taking deliveries will help him to be effective even on pitches that do not offer help to speedsters. Besides, this will also help to conserve and protect himself from the threat of injuries brought in running in heavily on the hard grounds in India.  

Finally, the million dollar question as to whether Mayank is ready to be blooded into the rough and tumble world of international cricket. While former opener Virender Sehwag has come out openly calling for his promotion to national side after the IPL, Shane Watson, the former Aussie cricketer, has advised more caution and restraint. Both schools of thoughts have valid arguments to support their stand. But it may be better to allow him to get some more exposure at the first-class level before being pushed into the high pressure arena of international cricket. He left the field with a side strain after bowling just one over against Gujarat Titans on Sunday night.

It remains to be seen how his body holds up to the challenge of playing cricket continuously and bowling long spells on placid tracks for hours on end. Further, this will also add to his skillsets besides providing him with invaluable experience in the art of preserving himself in hot and humid conditions. Pitchforking him straight to the highest level may stunt his learning process, which can prove to be damaging to the full realisation of his potential.

It is not in dispute that Mayank is one of the most exciting talents that has emerged on the Indian cricket horizon for some time. Let us hope that he does justice to his abilities and evolves into a shining star like Lillee and does not end up as a meteor like Shaun Tait.

(The author is a former international cricket umpire and a senior bureaucrat)

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