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Match Analysis

Tilak Varma announces his arrival with cool dismantling of Royals' plans

Playing just his second IPL game, he took apart a quality attack that made good use of the DY Patil Stadium's asymmetric boundaries

Deivarayan Muthu
02-Apr-2022
Tilak Varma's 33-ball 61 contained five sixes  •  BCCI

Tilak Varma's 33-ball 61 contained five sixes  •  BCCI

After hitting the first century of IPL 2022 and taking Rajasthan Royals to 193 for 8, Jos Buttler appeared twitchy at the innings break, telling the host broadcaster that the total might not be enough on another easy-paced track at the DY Patil Stadium, where one square boundary was markedly shorter than the other. That 193 looked a whole lot smaller when Tilak Varma, playing just his second IPL game, began showing his range against Royals' potent attack.
It's not often that Ishan Kishan plays the sidekick in a big stand, but Saturday was that kind of day. It was Varma's day. The 19-year-old gave Mumbai the belief that they could hunt down the target, contributing 49 to an 81-run third-wicket partnership with Kishan. With Suryakumar Yadav absent, still recovering from a wrist injury, and Kishan struggling to find a higher gear, particularly against spin, Varma emerged as Mumbai's new hero.
Those who had watched Varma on his IPL debut against Delhi Capitals, might know he is unhurried against pace. Varma had picked off Kamlesh Nagarkoti for back-to-back fours, dumping him out of the attack. He showed the same ability on Saturday too, even when the quicks executed their plans fairly well.
Navdeep Saini, for instance, had three boundary-riders on the off side with a plan to bowl full and wide to the left-handed Varma, denying him access to the shorter leg-side boundary. Despite the massed off-side boundary, Varma still found a gap by deliberately opening the face of his bat on the drive. In the same over, when Saini erred too full, Varma pumped him over long-off for six.
Varma also showed he has the game against spin, displaying excellent awareness against R Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal, and forcing them to dig deep.
Varma charged at Chahal in the tenth over and launched him with the spin over midwicket for six. It upset Chahal's line; two balls later, possibly in an effort to deny Varma room to free his arms, he sprayed a legbreak down the leg side, with fine leg up in the circle. Varma swept him past that infielder for four.
Varma's tussle with Ashwin, a world-class offspinner feared by left-handers worldwide, was even more intriguing.
Ashwin's plan was to cramp him up and stop him from lining up the shorter off-side boundary. In the seventh over, he managed to tuck him up for room with a short one darted into the body, but Varma still managed to pull him flat and hard for six. In the 15th, Ashwin went full and targeted middle stump with a 99kph slider, only for Varma to unleash an audacious reverse-sweep to ping the shorter boundary. Ashwin was left puffing his cheeks. Mumbai needed 59 off 35 balls at that point, with seven wickets in hand. Ashwin, however, knocked over Varma next ball with a delightful offbreak, to spin the game Royals' way.
"I was nervous [against Ashwin]," Varma said at the post-match press conference. "But my plan was to use the smaller boundary, since one boundary was small and one was large. I thought he may bluff, bowling at the stumps to take wickets, so I was waiting for that. But then when he was bowling to protect his runs, I knew he would bowl away from his stumps so I attacked. And when he bowled at the stumps, I thought I could take him on and go for a boundary shot. But that last ball gripped, turned, and I will try better next time."
These are still early days in Varma's career and in IPL 2022, but he has already shown glimpses of versatility against both pace and spin. Varma's power was also on show when he walloped Riyan Parag for a six that landed on a cameraman's head. He can also chip in with his offspin occasionally. It is for these multiple skills that Mumbai shelled out INR 1.7 crore for him, outbidding Chennai Super Kings. Mumbai's scouting network, in fact, has tracked Varma's progress from his Under-19 days.
"Mumbai Indians has been a very big franchise and my favourite franchise," Varma said. "They have worked with me on my power-hitting and my bowling. They have boosted my confidence by asking me to play freely. They have legends like Sachin [Tendulkar], Rohit [Sharma] bhai, Polly [Kieron Pollard] and [Jasprit] Bumrah as well. Thanks to Mumbai Indians for backing me up from the start of my career. Winning and losing is part of the game, we'll try 100% every game."
Mumbai have had another rickety start to the league, losing their first two games, but Varma's emergence and Suryakumar's impending return could potentially give their campaign the leg-up it needs.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo