By: Pramod Thomas
Akash Madhwal was working as an engineer and playing tennis-ball cricket just a few years ago, now he is in the Indian Premier League (IPL) record books.
The 29-year-old fast bowler returned stunning figures of 5-5 in the playoffs to lead five-time champions Mumbai Indians to victory over Lucknow Super Giants on Wednesday (24).
Mumbai will face Gujarat Titans on Friday (26) for a place in Sunday’s (28) final against Chennai Super Kings.
With Jasprit Bumrah and Jofra Archer both out injured, the previously unheralded Madhwal has grabbed his chance to shine.
He joined Mumbai last year as an injury replacement but remained confined to playing practice matches, before skipper Rohit Sharma introduced him to the big stage this season.
“The team has given me the responsibility so I am trying to do it,” Madhwal told reporters after his man-of-the-match performance.
“It’s not that I can take his (Bumrah’s) place, but whatever I can do in my capacity, I am doing.”
Madhwal’s route into IPL folklore — the first to take a five-wicket haul in the playoffs — came by way of an unusual path.
He was working as a civil engineer when he quit a steady job and joined his state team, before the IPL came calling.
“Cricket is my passion and not a burden,” he said. “So I am enjoying cricket after leaving engineering and a job to follow my passion without having much at home.”
Madhwal is also a product of tennis-ball cricket, a variant of the sport using tennis balls.
It is popular among budding cricketers across India and Madhwal said it played a part in his breakout display.
“I have learnt to bowl yorkers in tennis-ball cricket and I try to implement that (here) because that’s the only ball to save yourself (from getting hit for runs),” said Madhwal, who hails from the north Indian state of Uttarakhand.
“My strength is my yorker and bhaiyya (“brother” Rohit) used me where my strength lies and where the team needs me.”
His feat on Wednesday came on the back of 4-37 against Sunrisers Hyderabad — eclipsed only by Mumbai big-buy Cameron Green’s match-winning 100 not out.
Standing at 1.75 metres (five feet and nine inches), Madhwal is not your usual tall and burly fast bowler, but his accuracy and grit more than makes up for the lack of size.
“We knew what he had, and we needed somebody to bowl at the back end,” said Rohit. “Having seen him, I was confident he could get the job done for us.”
The bearded and often-smiling Madhwal struck twice in two balls, including getting the dangerous Nicholas Pooran out, caught behind for a duck to break Lucknow’s back.
Former India quick Zaheer Khan tweeted: “Looking forward to a lot more from the young lad.”
Opportunity has not come easy for Madhwal.
He played as a net bowler for Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2019 before joining Mumbai in the same capacity.
But Madhwal, who has led his state team in the 50-overs format, said he never lost hope.
“When a scouting team picks you as a net bowler, they give you a chance as well as one has to showcase your skills in the practice matches and show your potential,” he said.
“It’s just about grabbing your opportunity.”