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Shivam Mavi - Finding feet in freshman year

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He can send down the leather ball at 140-plus clicks. He doesn't like getting hit for boundaries. And when he does get hit, he becomes angry and looks to immediately give it back. How? He hurls bouncers at them, and if he sees the fear in their eyes, he relishes it. These are traits always associated with typically grown-up fast bowlers. But here's a boy who already has a World Cup medal in his cabinet, a fat IPL cheque too. Not too long back during the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand, he compelled former India skipper Sourav Ganguly and the West Indian great Ian Bishop to stand up and take notice, of his pace, his control and most notably, his character. Earlier in the year, that young lad, one of the vital cogs in India's 2018 Under-19 World Cup winning campaign, got the minting machine at the IPL auction table, buzzing before being picked up by Kolkata Knight Riders.


All the hype didn't ensure a game first up for Shivam Mavi as he had to watch from the dugout as KKR played its first couple of games of the 2018 season. However, when R Vinay Kumar went for 17 runs in that fateful final over against Chennai Super Kings, it also meant that Mavi's time had arrived. His Under-19 teammate, Kamlesh Nagarkoti had already been ruled out of the tournament with a metatarsal injury, meaning it wouldn't be a toss-up between the two. However, the wait wasn't quite over as he had to wait until the 15th over to have his first crack. There was not much life left in that game against Sunrisers Hyderabad, with the team needing only 37 off the last five overs. But Mavi didn't shy away from bowling his favourite short ball - 143 kph - to Kane Williamson, and rushed him into the pull. He did the same to Shakib Al Hasan too, showing he wasn't quite intimidated by the bigwigs despite the age-gap.


Pace is Mavi's biggest ally and by his own admission, the young man says bowling at 140 came naturally to him. However, Mavi tells Cricbuzz in an exclusive interview about the work that went behind getting quicker and the surprising results that it later threw up. Yet, while pace can be mouthwatering, it is rhythm that he had to befriend quickly.


"I always knew that I click 140 but I didn't know that I was clicking 145s too," Mavi tells Cricbuzz. "In the past one year or a little more, during which we toured England too, we had been working really hard at the National Cricket Academy. We worked on our fitness a lot, Anand Date, who is the head at the NCA, he has worked really hard on our bodies in the past 12 months. Our weaknesses, whatever me and Nagarkoti had, we eventually realised the importance of all this regime at the World Cup. We could sense the difference in our strength the moment we arrived in New Zealand and delivered our first spell.


"Rahul [Dravid] sir was watching closely, he explained how exciting it could be to bowl fast but the importance of line and length often gets lost. We focused on our rhythm, didn't worry too much about pace after that."


If it was all pace in the solitary over in his first game, he bowled clever lines to pick the wicket of the Delhi Daredevils captain Gautam Gambhir in his next. It was an awkward mix of silence and noise in Kolkata. Someone who had been Kolkata's own for seven years was going off the park and one of their newest members chose the opportune moment to announce his arrival. Skipper Dinesh Karthik's trust in him was growing too.


He was entrusted to bowl the final over against Rajasthan Royals after overs 18 and 19 had gone for 24 runs. With every passing game, Mavi's growing confidence was for everyone to see as he switched from his comfort zone of bowling short to fire in yorkers this time, showing his versatility as well.


Mavi had put in a lot of thought into his game before taking the big step, from the Under-19 World Cup to the IPL, all in less than three months' time. "In the IPL, of course, it is certainly not a case that they cannot play our pace. The players here are so accustomed to playing 140s or 150s. We have been constantly made to realise the importance of line and length, which has and will continue to trouble the batsmen," Mavi concedes. "Everyone struggles with a particular line and length, and it is about hitting those areas. Heath Streak sir has also guided us about the change of pace. You can't bowl at the same pace all the time, otherwise it becomes very easy for the batsman. Especially when the field is up, a minimum connection with a pacey delivery would mean that the ball will fly away.


"The biggest change from the World Cup to here is 'power'. The batsmen here are very powerful, so that's the main change at this level. We are looking to figure out the weaknesses of the opponents and stick to those channels."


Mavi's best though was to come in a game that KKR lost comprehensively, and to his misfortune, his numbers too failed to offer the right reflection of how well he bowled. In a truncated contest against Kings XI Punjab, Mavi was thrown at the deep end of the sea, asked to open the bowling for the first time, against the best opening combination of the ongoing edition - KL Rahul and Chris Gayle. Mavi was taken for a couple of boundaries by KL Rahul but his confidence didn't go for a toss. Bowling to the most destructive T20 batsman ever, Chris Gayle, he beat the big man consistently with beautiful outswingers or had him mistime boundaries.


With little to bowl with after the players returned following the rain break - eight runs needed to win - Mavi was summoned into the attack again. He further troubled Gayle allowing him only one run off five balls in that over.


The lethal away-swingers to the left-hander that he produced ball after ball though, isn't something that came naturally to him. While playing Under-16 cricket, Mavi picked up a Grade II ACL tear while practising the sliding stop at the Zonal Cricket Academy camp. The injury would confine him to the bed for one full month and a few more to gather full strength and importantly confidence to get back on the park. It was during this return to the field that he discovered that his natural away-swinger to the right-hander wasn't there anymore and instead he was getting it to jag back in.


"It's not easy to change anything about your action ever, because you find a certain comfort and confidence around it. When I was playing Under-16, I got a Grade II ACL tear. I didn't feel much immediately but on reaching home, I did feel a stinging pain. And after undergoing an MRI, I got to know that it is Grade II," Mavi remembers with a lot of hurt. "Felt really bad and headed straight to the physio. The worst thing I could have been told then was bedrest and that is exactly what was advised to me, for a month. I was very hassled because I am not used to missing my sessions at the academy, even for a single day.


"To get rid of the negative thoughts, I started going to the academy everyday. I used to go, watch the ball, play around with it because it is possible doubts start creeping into the mind if one stayed away for too long. I didn't want that. Then my rehab started, I hit the gym too, and when I started bowling, my left knee didn't have as much strength, so it used to hurt upon landing and the body was falling over too. The seam was not coming out right from the hand. I used to spend an extra half an hour at the start just trying to put the body in sync. Gradually, the seam started coming out right but the ball was coming back in all of a sudden. Earlier, it used to move away. And when the body started to feel comfortable with this, I didn't force myself to alter anything to find outswing again."


Having troubled the most successful T20 batsman with great consistency, Mavi would now know that losing the inswing to the right-handers wasn't too bad really.


But even as Mavi was exploring his new found success in the IPL circuit and taking greater strides forward, he was given a harsh reality check by Shreyas Iyer who was in red-hot form during the death overs in the game against Delhi Daredevils. Mavi had started off brilliantly with figures of 1-11 in two overs and had Iyer dropped off his bowling in the first over of his comeback spell. However, he looked disastrously short of ideas after that fielding blip and was taken for the most expensive over - 29 runs - of the current season. While KKR and Mavi would have hoped for all good things to happen to him, the jump to the next level for the Under-19 bloke was always meant to test skills and importantly, temperament as well. As Karthik would later put things in perspective, that situations like this will only help the bowler get better. "We need to show faith in him and that's how he will grow as a cricketer. We don't need to protect him, even if he gets hit, it's a learning experience for him. If we start protecting him, he's never going to grow," Karthik said at the end of the game.


While Mavi has the confidence of his captain, he'd also do well to remember the session he had with his Under-19 coach Dravid and bowling coach Paras Mhambrey on his way back from New Zealand. "Rahul Sir and Paras Sir had spoken to us a lot throughout our journey during the Under-19 World Cup. After we won the final and were on our way back, they spoke to us one by one, explained to us how this limelight is a result of a lot of hard work... the importance of striving as hard and keep our focus intact."


While the colts had just enjoyed the best campaign of their lives thus far, Dravid underlined the importance of moving on quickly from the past. "Whatever you have achieved in the World Cup, you got to forget it and move on," Mavi recollects the advice. He'd do well to remember it in the upcoming days.



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