From Delhi’s Sonnet Club to bowling fastest ball of IPL 2024: The story of a rapid Mayank Yadav

Lucknow : Lucknow Super Giants' Mayank Yadav bowls a delivery during the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket match between Lucknow Super Giants and Punjab Kings at Ekana Cricket Stadium, in Lucknow, Saturday, March 30, 2024. (Photo: IANS/Raj Kumar)

Lucknow : Lucknow Super Giants' Mayank Yadav bowls a delivery during the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket match between Lucknow Super Giants and Punjab Kings at Ekana Cricket Stadium, in Lucknow, Saturday, March 30, 2024. (Photo: IANS/Raj Kumar)

New Delhi, April 1 (IANS) The cricketing world has been buzzing since March 30, all thanks to Mayank Yadav’s outstanding display of raw speed and bounce, leaving everyone in awe during Lucknow Super Giants’ home match against Punjab Kings.

At the BRSABV Ekana Cricket Stadium on Saturday evening, Mayank breached the 150kmph mark nine times. The speed gun captured one of his deliveries at 155.8 kmph, making Mayank the holder of the fastest delivery in the ongoing season. It is also the tournament’s sixth fastest ball, & second only to SRH’s Umran Malik in terms of Indian bowlers.

Yadav’s match-winning spell of 3-27 in four overs, where he used short balls to perfection for dismissing Jonny Bairstow, Prabhsimran Singh and Jitesh Sharma - helped LSG beat Punjab Kings by 21 runs to seal its first win of the competition.

Krunal Pandya mentioned Mayank’s name as a player to watch out for in a video on the franchise’s social media accounts. In a virtual interaction, head coach Justin Langer said Mayank caught his eye by bowling at a good pace.

His IPL franchise website labels him as ‘medium-fast’, but that will probably change after outclassing PBKS batters with pure pace. Mayank’s speed and thrilling performance have generated buzz among cricket fans, leading to suggestions of fast-tracking him into the Indian team.

Mayank, who took the Player of the Match award on his IPL debut, expressed later how speed has captivated him throughout his life, citing rockets, superbikes, and supersonic jet planes as particular sources of fascination.

Back home in Punjabi Bagh, a bustling neighborhood in West Delhi, his father Prabhu Yadav beamed with pride as Mayank claimed Bairstow as his inaugural IPL wicket. Prabhu recalled how his love for fast-bowling inspired Mayank to become one too.

“I was a fan of fast-bowlers, particularly Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, as well as of Glenn McGrath, Shaun Pollock, and Jacques Kallis. Mayank knew I enjoyed watching fast-bowlers bowl. So he got the idea of becoming a fast-bowler on seeing my interest towards them,” said Prabhu to IANS.

Mayank’s journey in fast-bowling began at eight, but it was a trial at the prominent Sonnet Club in 2017, founded by late Tarak Sinha, that changed everything. Coach Devendra Sharma, who now runs Sonnet Club, which has produced over a dozen players for India, including Rishabh Pant, praised Mayank’s quick pace despite his frail look.

“I took his trial as Tarak sir was out of station that time. Seeing his really quick bowling, I was left in awe and wondered, ‘Fitness wise, his built is very weak, yet bowls very fast’. I realised quickly that he’s got God-gifted talent. His deliveries go very quick off the wicket and his action is very easy and smooth.”

“I informed Tarak sir about him and when he arrived next week, we slowly got him into playing various tournaments. We also worked on his fitness and by giving him consistent game time, he slowly became ready to play for the main Delhi side.”

“We have students at the club who bowl at a very fast pace, but Mayank is very quick off the wicket naturally. Tarak sir was always in praise of him. Sir ki nazrein aisi thi ki ekdum pehchaan jaate hai (Tarak sir had this knack of spotting talented players immediately). When he first came to me, he didn’t even have shoes to bowl fast. Now, he’s bowled the fastest ball in IPL 2024, and it is a very proud moment for the club,” said Devendra to IANS.

Mayank gained a reputation in Delhi cricket circuit for taking multiple wicket hauls and hitting batters’ helmets. Despite his style of bowling reminding one of West Indies’ fiery bowlers, Mayank idolizes South African pace-bowling legend Dale Steyn.

“Even Tarak sir asked him once that who do you like the most in cricket and Mayank replied, ‘Dale Steyn’. He further prodded him if he liked anyone else in cricket as Steyn is an out-swing bowler. But Mayank said, ‘No sir, I only like him in cricket’.”

“Tarak sir and Devendra sir have played a very huge hand in Mayank’s development. They are the ones who have made him the fast-bowler he is right now. If Tarak sir was alive today, he would have been very delighted on seeing his great performance. Whatever he and Devendra sir have done in nurturing Mayank, I will be forever indebted to them,” adds Prabhu.

Krishan Kumar Bharadwaj, the fielding coach & side-arm specialist at Sonnet Club, recalled that Mayank had the opportunity to join the Services side but chose not to. “He passed the Services trials, but refused to join them as one gets very less chance to play IPL or for the country from being in that team. Moreover, he always had the wish to play domestic cricket for Delhi as he’s been born and brought up here.”

His Delhi debut came in December 2021 during the Vijay Hazare Trophy match against Haryana at the Sector 16 Stadium in Chandigarh. Things went down the wire with Haryana needing 12 runs off the last two overs. Mayank bowled a maiden in the 49th over to seal the game in Delhi’s favour.

In the practice session ahead of the Delhi-Haryana match, something intriguing unfolded. Vijay Dahiya, the former India wicketkeeper-batter and then-head coach of Uttar Pradesh, positioned himself between the nets sessions of both teams to see Mayank’s bowling practice.

Dahiya recognized Mayank’s talent after watching him bowl with impressive speed. He shared this with important individuals in the LSG franchise, including then-mentor Gautam Gambhir. “I told Gautam about Mayank and said, ‘We should keep an eye on him’. When we sat at the auction table after finalising the strategy for the 2022 mega auction, we were convinced to keep him in our scheme of things and that’s how he got picked for LSG.”

“The pace stands out for him and what happens at times is, when you want to get convinced, couple of balls or shots are good enough. That was the case with somebody like him, and there is no substitute as far as raw pace in concerned, although he was not bowling at this pace, but he was looking completely different than anyone else from there,” said Dahiya to IANS.

Dahiya, LSG’s assistant coach for its first two IPL seasons, viewed Mayank as a long-term investment. “I told people who mattered after the auction that, ‘We are not buying him thinking that he will play this year for us, but he will be ready by next year onwards’.”

“He was all set to play last year, but in a practice scenario, he unfortunately got injured (tore his hamstring) and couldn’t play in the season. If not for the injury, he would have made his IPL debut last year.”

Once fit, Mayank played for the North Zone side in the 2023 50-over Deodhar Trophy, picking 12 scalps in five games at an average of 17.58. He particularly made heads turn by picking out Rahul Tripathi’s middle stump with a rapid ball.

In the start of the domestic season, Mayank shined by taking five wickets in four games in Delhi’s march to semi-finals of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. In the Vijay Hazare Trophy, he picked six wickets in five games, before an injury ruled him out of Ranji Trophy.

Mayank’s injuries worried him, but Devendra ensured he remained motivated. “Two years ago, he told me about making his IPL debut, but injuries came in the way. I used to tell him, ‘Beta, keep yourself motivated, continue doing the hard work so that whenever you get a chance to play, do well in it’.”

Earlier this year, as India’s five-match Test series against England drew near, chief selector Ajit Agarkar eagerly wanted to assess Mayank, who was in Mumbai undergoing rehab for a hamstring injury.

“I told him to have a word with Agarkar and he said to Mayank, ‘I want to have a look at you’. But Mayank said, ‘I am injured right now.’ Saturday’s IPL game was his first competitive game after the injury, where he became Player of the Match.”

Bharadwaj recalls Mayank’s journey of becoming mentally stronger during rehab, which propelled him to focus more on his fitness. “Whenever he got injured in between, he always had that positivity in himself to comeback and get his body back to being used to the rigours of the game. He would keep working on his mental toughness during the recovery days and was steadfast over not letting negativity creep in his mind.”

Mayank, despite his injuries, attracted the interest of Gujarat Titans, a team with Sonnet Club alumnus Ashish Nehra as their head coach. Pant, who met Mayank on March 11 at the club, also wished for him to be in the Delhi Capitals’ set-up. But neither side could gain his services because of LSG not releasing him.

Dahiya credited LSG for their absolute belief in him despite being ruled out of IPL 2023. “They looked after him because we said that if he was to be sent home right now, then his confidence will be shaken. Association won’t look after him, so we need to look after him. When we showed interest in him and thought that he’s somebody who can be useful for us, so we need to look after him.”

“LSG looked after him really well and results are there. But I will not be carried away by the results to be very honest. Right now, we are talking about a potential and he’s somebody who needs to be absolutely looked after really well because of his pace and history of his body, as he’s somebody who’s got so much to offer.”

Dahiya added that captain KL Rahul also needs to be credited for giving Mayank his IPL debut. “Identifying somebody is one part, but looking after him and giving a platform is the most important part. Credit needs to be given to KL as well, where he believed and gave him the opportunity, although toss was done by Nicholas Pooran.”

“But I still believe it’s KL’s input because JL (head coach Justin Langer) has joined in this year and the people who were in the set-up from day one are not there. It’s about the belief KL had in him of starting the first home game with the youngster.”

Devendra thought Punjab would win by eight wickets when they were at 98/0. But Lucknow emerged victorious thanks to Mayank’s outstanding performance. “He bowled wicket to wicket and gave no room to the batters. Barring the ball which we bowled down leg to Shikhar Dhawan, rest of the deliveries were excellent.”

“Before this game, I told him to bowl as per your strengths, then all will be well. He called me up after the match ended and sounded very excited by saying, ‘Sir, I bowled my deliveries very well’. We discussed a lot about how he fared in the game and the things he got it spot-on, like bowling sharply.”

“I feel whatever God did, it was for the good. He waited for two years to make his IPL debut. I used to tell everyone for the last five years that he can bowl at 155kmph and now he’s proved it to everyone.”

Mayank’s confidence and composure in the match left a good impression on Dahiya. “Sometimes when you have the pace, you see bouncers being bowled regularly. But he used his bouncer very smartly, as seen from all his victims claimed on short-pitched deliveries and at the right area. He will get a lot of confidence from Saturday’s performance, as you need that one showing to get the self-belief that I belong here.”

Bharadwaj remembered how Mayank achieved the accuracy of his deliveries, especially of the bouncer, at Sonnet Club. “Our nets would begin between 10 to 10:30am. On a single wicket, we would place cones and he would be ask to hit them. From there, he built the accuracy of his bouncers and of more deliveries in his arsenal.”

As LSG prepares for their upcoming matches in IPL 2024, Mayank will face mounting pressure to reach high speeds consistently, and Dahiya believes this will be his true test. “The only thing is, if his speed goes down at some point, people might start wondering if he’s injured.”

“It doesn’t matter how many people tell you that you are good enough to belong. But once when you look into the mirror and say, ‘I belong here’, things will start to happen for you. When he will be in his hotel room, he will see that performance and say while looking at the mirror ‘I belong here’. But the test will start now.”

Prabhu, who has enjoyed watching his son bowl since he was eight, expects continued exceptional performances from Mayank, as does the entire cricketing community. “I just expect him to play later for the country and let’s see what God does. All we can do is to put in efforts and leave the rest to God’s grace.”