Fast-bowling captains are for cricket what successful player signings are for Manchester United - a rarity.
For years, Jaydev Unadkat has kept the flag flying for the fast bowlers in Indian domestic cricket, captaining Saurashtra with distinction. And now there is Uttar Pradesh fast bowler Shivam Mavi, who made a successful senior captaincy debut, leading Central Zone to a win over East Zone in the Duleep Trophy quarterfinal this season.
“I have been a vice-captain in domestic cricket and have captained at the junior level. So that has helped my captaincy. This has been a good experience. We have a good team and everyone has been really supportive,” said Mavi before his side’s semifinal against West Zone.
Speaking about the paucity of fast bowlers in leadership roles, the 24-year-old said, “I have felt that it is difficult for a fast bowler to captain in Indian conditions as it is really hot and humid. The physical strain this puts on bowlers might be why selectors never go with fast bowlers as captains. I got lucky with the good weather here and we didn’t have to bowl much (against East Zone),” he added with a laugh.
Mavi’s star rose in 2018 when he played a pivotal role in India’s title win in the Under-19 World Cup. His progression through the choppy waters of Indian cricket was often held back by untimely injuries, with the latest coming soon after he made his international debut, against Sri Lanka, where he took an impressive four-wicket haul.
That setback saw him sit out the rest of the domestic season and miss the whole of the IPL (Indian Premier League), where he was part of Gujarat Titans. But the lanky pacer believes he is back to his best.
“I am now bowling at 100%. I couldn’t play in the IPL because I had some niggles. But now I am fully fit and have been working hard on nets. I didn’t play much in the last few months as I didn’t want to rush back,” said Mavi.
In addition to his role as fast-bowling captain, the Central Zone skipper also represents another oddity. In a country where fielding is an oft-neglected skill for pacers, Mavi provides a glaring contrast. He has often caught the attention for the spectacular catches he takes in the outfield and the vast ground he covers while manning crucial fielding positions.
“I have always given great importance to fielding. Even when I was 11, I used to do a lot of fielding drills. Fast bowlers in our country are usually conditioned to not put much effort in fielding as most of our grounds are not in great condition and usually, we are the most injury-prone of the lot,” said Mavi.
“When I was playing U-14 for Delhi, Suresh Raina noticed me and gave me a tip which helped my fielding tremendously. He said that my range was limited and told me that as a fast bowler, the more the distance I can cover on my feet, the lesser I have to dive and put my body at risk,” he added.
On Wednesday, Mavi’s Central side will be up against West, which has a batting lineup at par with most international sides – Priyank Panchal, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Suryakumar Yadav, Sarfaraz Khan and Arpit Vasavada. But Mavi isn’t one to be fazed.
“For me, it doesn’t matter who I am bowling against. If you bowl in the right areas, you will get good results. You also have to keep in mind that at this level, you have to assume whoever you are bowling to is good. Sometimes, the ball won’t land where you want. But I believe that if you keep bowling with a positive mindset and body language, things will turn your way,” said Mavi.
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