Akash Madhwal: The up-and-comer propping up MI weaker arm

There was a short period after the PowerPlay during Lucknow Super Giants' chase on Wednesday night when Marcus Stoinis lulled the MI-supporting crowd into silence. Mumbai Indians had posted 10 more runs than CSK defended on Tuesday, but their inferior bowling attack meant the five-time champions had to be extra vigilant. LSG's most consistent batter this season kept them on their toes, even as they'd already dismantled the top three by the ninth over. The problem for LSG at this stage though, was that only Stoinis appeared like a batter who knew what he had to do, and not let the pressure of the chase in a knockout game creep up on him. Ayush Badoni did not come equipped with that temperament and Akash Madhwal took advantage of that to trigger an incredible collapse. The 29-year-old engineer-turned-pacer from Uttarakhand is another scouting success story for Mumbai Indians. Madhwal's cricket journey started in 2018 when he joined up with the Uttarakhand domestic side after they'd received affiliation. Rungs were then slowly climbed as he first caught the attention of RCB in 2019 to be a net bowler, before being prised away for the MI nets. In late 2022, he found his way into the squad as a replacement for an injured Suryakumar Yadav, and therein began the work behind-the-scenes that culminated in the incredible bowling figures - 3.3 overs | 17 dots | 5 runs | 5 wickets - on Wednesday night. The message put across to Madhwal when he joined the squad as a player with just two league games left in an abysmal 2022 season was crystal clear - do what you're doing well already and the chances will come next season. Those weren't empty promises. Madhwal himself revealed how being picked as a net bowler came as the best chance to step up and break into the squad. "When the scouting team picks you as a net bowler, they give you a chance too," Madhwal said. "There are practice matches where you need to show your potential. The team is looking at you because you've been scouted, and they're keeping you at the franchise and taking care of you, so if you get a chance you've got to grab it." Midway through the season when MI were still lagging behind in the intense race to make the playoffs, Rohit took the punt. "He (Akash) was part of the team last year as a support bowler, and once Jofra [Archer] was gone, I knew he had skills and the character to do the job for us," Rohit said. The show of those skills and character first came in a game where his figures (0 for 37) didn't do justice to what he'd pulled off. As an IPL debutant, he went up against Liam Livingstone - breathing fire with a 75* off 38 - and looking for every opportunity to maximise at the death. Madhwal took the ball right after Jofra Archer had been smashed for 27 runs in the 19th over. Fearlessly however, Madhwal executed his full balls outside the off-stump and nailed his yorkers to deny the England allrounder a single boundary. That over went under the radar in the context of what MI achieved in that game (chasing down PBKS' 214/3) but Rohit knew exactly what he was doing by employing Madhwal in that tough phase. "My strength is [the] yorker and Rohit bhaiya knows it. As a captain, he used me exactly where I was needed for the team," Madhwal said. The efficiency to bowl that tough delivery comes from his tennis ball cricket days, where he'd learnt very quickly that bowling any other length was going to get severely punished. Even as he began to play cricket at higher levels, that specific bowling principle tagged along with him. But that hasn't stopped Madhwal from adding more dimensions to be able to operate across phases. "In the nets I bowled with the new ball too so Rohit bhaiya felt... even in practice matches I picked wickets with the new ball, so he felt that I can bowl with that too. So wherever he felt confident of using me, he gave me the ball and I proved it to him," Madhwal said. As his skiddy deliveries hurried Badoni and built-up dot-ball pressure in the 10th over, it led the LSG batter to try and wiggle his way out with a big, ambitious swipe across the line. Unfortunately for Badoni, he came nowhere close to connecting bat to ball and saw his stumps disturbed. Stoinis was next joined by the one other competent batter of the season for LSG - Nicholas Pooran - but it didn't make a difference on the night. Madhwal showcased how there was so much more to his armoury than just well-executed yorkers as he went round the stumps to the left-hander, angled a length ball in and got it to seam away a touch and take the outside edge to the keeper. "The wicket of Nicholas Pooran was most pleasing for me. It was planned that when a left hander comes to bat, I'll go round the wicket," he revealed. That Madhwal over turned the game - and the 2023 campaign - upside down for LSG as they ran poorly thereafter and fell from 74/3 in the 10th over to 92/7 in the 13th. Madhwal remained relentless when he came back for his last two overs at the death and didn't even need to complete them both before signing off with the best-ever bowling returns in the playoffs. In a season where MI have been without Jasprit Bumrah and lost Archer to injury midway, their passage to the final-four relied mainly on outmuscling opponents with the bat. Yet, after four successful run-chases of 200 or more carried them to the knockouts, Madhwal and his 5 for 5 came as a welcome bowling respite and a semblance of balance to spark life into MI's lacking season.

Cricket Mazza 11 App