Uttar Pradesh failed to progress beyond the group stages during their previous Ranji season, finishing at the bottom of the Elite Division. What worried the team management was their toothless bowling attack. Ankit Rajpoot, their lead fast bowler, showed heart but lacked the luck and support from the other end. Inability to bowl out the opposition twice was the crux of their travails. These are still early days into this season, but this team led admirably by Akshdeep Nath has shown they have put the horrors of the previous year behind them.
One of the principal reasons for this turnaround in their fortunes can be attributed to this whiff of potency they have injected in their bowling. That’s because Rajpoot has finally found his ally in the pace and zip of young 19-year-old Shivam Mavi. Together, they have been ably complemented by left-arm spinner Saurabh Kumar. In this three-pronged attack, Uttar Pradesh have found the requisite firepower and variety to topple opposition teams with ease.
Not surprisingly, the trio was in the thick of action yet again against Services on their home turf at the Airforce Sports Complex in Palam. On a track that had precious little on offer, either in terms of bounce or lateral movement, Rajpoot and Mavi bent their backs and even got the ball to reverse in the afternoon session. They accounted three scalps apiece, with Rajpoot finishing with figures of 3/70, while Mavi had 3/44 to show on the score-sheet.
In between their bursts, Kumar was relentless and kept the pressure on the home side, quietly helping himself to a couple of wickets with his spin. Their sustained assaults reduced Services to 147/7 at the tea interval on Tuesday afternoon, before a brief rearguard from their wicket-keeper Devendra Lohchab’s unbeaten 71 and Nitin Tanwar’s 39 helped them finish the proceedings on Day 1 at 256/8.
Mavi, too, deserves credit for his stellar show today. After making heads turn at the U-19 World Cup in New Zealand earlier this year, the youngster has hit his straps in his first year in first-class cricket. But before that, perhaps it was the IPL spotlight that helped him in his evolution.
Getting picked by KKR gave him the opportunity to interact and work closely with the likes of Jacques Kallis and Simon Katich. Mavi made his debut for Uttar Pradesh at the Vijay Hazare Trophy, where he picked up a hat-trick on debut against Saurashtra. However, he showed no qualms in adjusting to the longer formats and the red ball. “Honestly, domestic cricket is much tougher than you expect…especially today when you get slow and flat wickets, which has nothing for the bowlers. We tried reverse swing, bowled bouncers and kept mixing our lines and lengths,” Mavi said.
Both Rajpoot and Mavi together have accounted for 30 wickets in the five innings spanning three Ranji games so far. Their performances were instrumental in Uttar Pradesh notching up back-to-back emphatic wins this season — an innings win against Goa in Kanpur, followed by a 10-wicket victory over Odisha in Bhubaneshwar. These victories have given them 14 points from 2 games has catapulted them to the top of Group C.
The confident start notwithstanding, what will put Nath’s team slightly off guard is that both their fast bowlers, have been selected for the Emerging teams’ Asia Cup that will be played in Sri Lanka next month. This effectively rules out both Rajpoot and Mavi for all the league games scheduled in December. “If BCCI wants us early then, we could even miss out the next game,” Rajpoot said.
Brief Scores: Services: 256/8 in 90 overs (Devendra Lohchab 71 not out; Ankit Rajpoot 3/70, Shivam Mavi 3/44) vs UP