On the eve of the IPL opener in Mumbai, Chennai Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming had said they were banking on several 30-plus players because of the experience they brought to the table.
"Not often do you see young players come out and make a mark. People talk a lot about it but very rarely do young players shoot the lights out," Fleming had said on Friday night. He also said that he "valued experience" and was proven right by Dwayne Bravo's all-round brilliance but was also almost proven wrong by Mumbai Indians' debutant Mayank Markande, who took 3 for 23 on his IPL debut and struck Super Kings by surprise.
Markande is only 20 and an unknown entity in Indian cricket. He was unknown more than two months ago as well when he turned up at the Mumbai Indians pre-auction trials among many others. Soon, he flew from Bengaluru to Dharamsala a night before the IPL auction weekend to represent Punjab Under-23 in a match. Markande knew he was young and raw, and was "mentally prepared" to further work on his game, before becoming a more promising prospect in the auction. Whether the chances were low or high of getting picked, Markande could not sleep the night before the auction.
The next day, he handed over his phone, as is customary, before playing the match. Meanwhile in Bengaluru, his name came up in the second round of the auction in the uncapped players category and Mumbai bought him at his base price of INR 20 lakhs. Markande was oblivious to all this because of his Under-23 match.
By the time he got it back in the evening, he had 37 missed calls and 300 unread messages to attend to. He quickly called his friends but didn't believe them when he was told a franchise as big as Mumbai Indians had bought him. He was living in disbelief until he was called by the team manager Rahul Sanghvi about the news and that he had to join them for the upcoming IPL.
Born in Bathinda in Punjab, Markande had aspirations of becoming a fast bowler when he was 10-11 years of age. He was not so quick at pace bowling when his coaches at cricket academy advised him to switch to legspin. Maybe disheartened at hearing this, Markande had a back-of-the-hand slower delivery and it is probably the only thing he has retained after turning into a legspinner, by bowling it a googly. He worked on his legbreaks with the coaches at the academy for a couple of years and "things panned out pretty well," he says.
Markande went on to train under former India allrounder Reetinder Sodhi's father in Patiala and he later moved to an academy run by Munish Bali, who played for State Bank of Patiala.
Just when he got out of his teens, he made his T20 debut for Punjab against Jammu & Kashmir in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in January 2018 and his 50-over debut the next month against Haryana. Another two months later, he is probably living his dream by being a part of the Mumbai Indians squad in the IPL. But was he going to get a chance after Mumbai splurged on retaining their core and fast-bowling arsenal?
The advantage Markande had was he was among the only two wristspinners in the squad, along with Rajasthan's 18-year old Rahul Chahar who played last year's IPL for Rising Pune Supergiant. For the IPL's opening match on Saturday, Mumbai threw in a surprise for Super Kings and he flummoxed some of their batsmen.
"I thought he bowled brilliantly, we backed him when we saw him first at our camp," head coach Mahela Jayawardene said of Markande. "We knew that he was special...he came for two trial games for us, both him and Chahar. We backed our youngsters. We knew that this is the year we had to do that. The stadium was packed against CSK and he bowled well, I am pleased for him.
"I think it is the accuracy," he further said when asked about what was impressive about Markande. "He is quite accurate and probably a bit different to a normal legspinner as well. The way he delivers the ball, the control he has with his variations, and he is very confident for a guy who has not played much T20 cricket. He has played lot of state cricket for Punjab. His attitude is great and we want to back those guys, give them an opportunity and see what happens."
And what happened was, Markande was given the ball as soon as the Powerplay ended and he slipped in a googly to Ambati Rayudu with his third ball in the IPL. Rayudu had been batting well until then, but this time he could not pick the wrong'un from the back of the hand and didn't connect with the sweep.
Exactly two overs later, Markande trapped T20 veteran MS Dhoni on the back foot as the batsman tried to work him to the leg side but again Markande's zippy action didn't give Dhoni much time and once the ball came in after pitching instead of going away, Dhoni hardly had any time to adjust. Luckily for Dhoni, the umpire turned the loud lbw appeal down but Mumbai captain Rohit Sharma at slip reviewed it immediately seeing how confident his bowler was.
Markande ended the match with magical debut figures of 4-0-23-3, also dismissing Deepak Chahar with a googly later on, but ended up on the losing side after Bravo's attack against the quick bowlers.
In the long run, Mumbai will now focus on their next match and how to improve Markande as a bowler. For the legspinner himself, who idolised Shane Warne, the challenge will be to survive and remain relevant in the age of Rashid Khans and Shadab Khans.