The batsmen have packed up and left the nets. Shubham Mavi and a shoe remain. It’s planted a yard and a half in front the stumps, just about where a batter would stand, and Mavi is having a hard go at it. A fast bowler running in to bowl without the batsman at the other end has an air of absurdity about it, for the setting is incomplete. It appears that all that physical effort is going into nothing. Or is it? Because where we see a shoe, Mavi sees an opportunity. With Rahul Dravid watching closely, he knocks it over again and again.
With the India Under-19 team having won both their matches and made the quarterfinals, there is some room for experimentation in the spare fixture. The team management may be tempted to try the untested in the final Group D match against Nepal – though they will need to win it to avoid hosts Bangladesh in the quarterfinals.
The reserve players have had a busy day, including Mavi. He wants impress his coach. This potential chance has come after a long and frustrating wait.
His run-up is full of intent, leap good and the action high-arm. And if you observe closely, you would spot a faint flick of the wrist at the point of release. Many pacers have it, some discernible and others subtle. But here you are almost expecting to find it in him.
The thing is, Mavi comes from Meerut. From the same Victoria Park academy that has produced such swing bowling exponents as Praveen Kumar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Like PK and Bhuvi, Mavi too has been coached by Sanjay Rastogi. As if these similarities weren’t enough, his father, again like those of Praveen and Bhuvneshwar, works in Uttar Pradesh Police. Chandrahaas Mavi is a sub-inspector in the neighbouring Baghpat district.You can explain a lot of other common things, how do you explain this cop connection?
Rastogi laughs a hearty laugh when you ask him this question. “There is no mystery here. The thing is that the academy is situated right next to Meerut’s Police Lines’ residential complex. Families of lots of policemen live there. So a number of kids from there come to the academy,” he says.
But the similarities with the two Kumars end here. Mavi, Rastogi says, doesn’t swing the ball like them. “I am not saying that he doesn’t swing it. No. He has a very good and effective in-swinger. It’s just that his ball doesn’t move as prodigiously as PK and Bhuvi’s do,” says Rastogi.
But he has other strengths. He bowls at a good pace. “Mere hisaab se 135-plus phenkta hai,” says Rastogi. Even if you take out five kilometers – which most coaches would be inclined to add to talk their wards up – that is not bad for an Under-19 player. “Also his ball rises. And he bowls very accurate yorkers and has a clever slower one. Lately, he has started swinging the ball away from the (right-handed) batsmen as well. He is a hard working fellow and he puts in a lot of effort. Bada joshila bowler hai,” says Rastogi.
Mavi was 12 when he joined the academy. “At that age you can’t say if someone is going to be a good bowler or not, but he was quite a hard working lad. Always used to say mujhe fast bowler hi ban-na hai,” the coach says. “When he was barely 14, there was a triangular U19 tournament that was played in Meerut. The academy had fielded two teams. A senior team which had slightly older boys, and a junior team which had Shubham. There was a third team from a very good club from Meerut. And it was the junior team that won the tournament because of Shubham’s bowling. That gave him confidence. After that, he was selected for the the UP Under-16 team and also went to the NCA,” informs Rastogi.
He insists that Mavi could have played the last Junior World Cup if not for a back injury that put him out of cricket for nearly a year. Having helped Uttar Pradesh to the Vijay Merchant title after nine years, Mavi was dreaming of making the state and India Under-19 teams when the injury struck. It was a period full of teenage and cricketing uncertainties, and it is evident from his Facebook timeline:
May 31, 2013: “Waiting for true love…..agar is duniya mein h.”
July 28, 2013: “Suffering from injury…..facing worst time of my life.”
August 7, 2013: “Patani ye injury kab jayegi….kahin ye 19 ka season bi na chala jaye….?”
August 8, 2013: “Waiting for true love….if it is present in this world…”
Rastogi recalls that the youngster, despite the injury, would come to the ground. To just watch others play. “He had gotten depressed. Then I told him not to lose hope. Even when he couldn’t bowl, he would come and sit here at the academy and watch others practice. When PK or Bhuvi used to drop by, he would pick their brains,” the coach says.
Eventually, he became fit and made the UP Under-19 team in 2014. Strong performances at the Cooch Behar Trophy and the Vinoo Mankad trophy led to his selection in the Challenger Trophy this year and then in the Indian team.
This Under-19 Indian side has some impressive pace bowlers in Avesh Khan, Khaleel Ahmed and Rahul Batham. In the two tri-series in Kolkata and Colombo, Mavi, whenever he got a chance, put up a good show. To get his foot in the door for the quarterfinals, though, what Mavi – should he get a chance – would need is more than just a good show.
He would need a defining performance. “If he gets even a slightly helpful wicket, you will see that he is a good bowler,” Rastogi says.
In his friends’ circle, they call him Ferrari, for perhaps his pace – for he is certainly not high maintenance. It will be interesting to see, then, if India place their bets on the Prancing Horse for the match against Nepal on Monday.