‘Passion will get you so far’
It is a proverbial statement, a nugget of wisdom, and a general truth of sorts. But, try telling that to Mumbai Indians’ Aakash Madhwal, and he will probably laugh at you!
Madhwal bagged his first IPL Player of the Match award for a stellar performance in the IPL 2023 Eliminator that blew away Lucknow Super Giants at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai on a breezy Wednesday night.
The 29-year-old from Roorkee, Uttarakhand claimed 5/5 in 3.3 overs to register the best-ever figures in the history of the IPL playoff and the fifth best-ever IPL figures.
Now, where does ‘Passion’ fit in this narrative?
Well, Madhwal has passion, loads of it and that shone through evidently in his emotional expressions during the post-match presentation with Harsha Bhogle and the subsequent press conference.
“I made cricket my passion and worked hard and now I have reached here,” Madhwal told Bhogle with unbridled emotions. “I followed my passion, and when you enjoy your passion you are chill (ed out),” he went on to say later at the presser.
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So was it only passion that helped Madhwal come this far? — Absolutely, not.
What makes Madhwal’s success ever so beautiful and even more impressive is that, in this day and age of young and upcoming cricketers who can dissect their own game like a surgeon with a scalpel, Madhwal is a simpleton, in comparison, who believes it is his love for the game that has taken him this far. It is a very simple metric.
But, passion alone cannot give you 13 wickets at an average of 12.48 playing in the toughest franchise league in the world. Not just hard work either. It requires talent, nurturing and the proper backing. And that’s what the Uttarakhand captain got from Mumbai Indians.
Start: Passion for Cricket
A tennis ball yorker specialist back in his home state, Madhwal turned up for trials organized by the Cricket Association of Uttarakhand- after the association got affiliate status in 2018. He left engineering, his job in pursuit of his passion even though it was a big gamble he was taking with his life.
And even though he did not have the best of starts, he picked up things quite quickly. After all, he is an engineer.
“We engineers tend to pick up things quickly,” Madhwal would quip to engineer-turned-broadcaster Bhogle.
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MI is known for their scouting – Jasprit Bumrah is a shining example of that. And over the years MI’s scouts have managed to unearth talents from every nook and cranny of the country. Madhwal had his first taste of IPL in 2019 as a net bowler with Royal Challengers Bangalore and the next year he was in the MI setup.
“The Scouting team picked me as a net bowler in the setup they give you chances in the practice matches and you have to perform, and show your potential and the team is also observing you and when you get the chance, you have to grab it,” says Madhwal.
What worked in Madhwal’s favour was his talent of bowing yorkers consistently. A very difficult art to perfect and with practically zero error percentage.
“Tennis ball se sirf yorker seekha, wohi implement karta hun. Ek hi ball hota bachne ka; agar upar neeche padega toh six hi lagta hai – wohi chahiye hota hai tennis ball aur wohi mein yaha kar raha hun (I have only learned to bowl yorkers with a tennis ball, and that is what I implement. There is only one chance to survive; if it goes up or down, it will result in a six – that’s what tennis ball requires, and that’s what I am doing here)”.
After impressing as a net bowler, Madhwal graduated to the main team when in 2022 he was added to the MI squad as a replacement for an injured Suryakumar Yadav with two games remaining in the season but he did not get a game. But, he was given the assurance that next year he will be in the scheme of things.
“Last year, for the last two matches I came in as a replacement for Surya bhai when he got injured, but I got a clear message that next year I will get the chance, this was told to me,” Madhwal says about the assurance from the management.
The Final Piece: Opportunity
And with Bumrah ruled out of the 2023 season, MI had to draft in Madhwal to fill in the big boots of Bumrah and to keep things tight in the backend of the innings.
But he had to wait till MI’s eighth game for his debut cap. The five-time champions tried two uncapped left-arm pacers in Arshad Khan and Arjun Tendulkar in the first seven, before giving Madhwal a go. His first three games were quite average conceding runs at over 11 runs per over in two of those and with only one wicket to show for. After being in the XI for those games, Madhwal was relegated to the bench as a substitute for Impact Player.
Then the Gujarat Titans game happened on May 3 and the chance he wanted to grab, he finally did, returning 3/37 as an Impact Player. MI won the match with Madhwal packing off Wriddhiman Saha, Shubman Gill and David Miller.
In the crunch game against SRH, he again put his hands up and with 4/37 including a spell of 10 balls which included three wickets, giving away only six runs. Madhwal was particularly praised for his yorkers.
A Star is Born
On Wednesday, the fast bowler delivered a performance of a lifetime, shattering the core of LSG’s batting lineup, delivering an exceptional spell with figures of 3.3-0-5-5. And it wasn’t just the yorkers he was nailing, but Rohit Sharma had so much confidence in Madhwal that he was to become Rohit’s go-to bowler, bowling with the new ball, in the middle and at the death.
“My strength was my yorkers, and Rohit bhaiya, as captain, used me where it was required for the team. In the nets, I bowled well with the new ball and in the practice matches took wickets also and he started entrusting me with the new ball and wherever he had the confidence to use and, I (have) proved it to him,” said Madhwal of the backing he enjoyed from his captain.
The job is not yet done though and Madhwal is confident of taking his team to its 6th title. Then also, he is not thinking too far ahead. Bhogle tried to bait him in with the comparisons with Bumrah, but he did not fall for it and in the most unassuming of tones, he said, “Responsibility (death bowling) to hai, the team has given me, not that I can take Bumrah’s spot, but I am trying to do my best.
“Bumrah bhai apni jagah, mein apni jagah hu, sir”
Madhwal has the passion, the talent, and the proper backing … but more importantly, he has humility – and probably all of these combined can take him farther than passion alone ever could!