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Feature

Amit Mishra, 40 and looking it, brings Lucknow the warm and fuzzy

Tailormade home conditions and the Impact Player rule could make MishiMania a thing this season

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
07-Apr-2023
Amit Mishra had to prove he was fit for purpose - just the greatest hits wouldn't do  •  BCCI

Amit Mishra had to prove he was fit for purpose - just the greatest hits wouldn't do  •  BCCI

The start of the IPL usually coincides with the end of the WrestleMania season. This is the time WWE brings out the veterans of pro wrestling, and usually books them in spots where they come out looking good. It just creates a warm, fuzzy feel around the edgier product. And nostalgia never doesn't sell.
In that regard, the IPL is cricket's WrestleMania. MS Dhoni is the part-timer who has moved in years and on to Hollywood, but has a few big matches left in him. There are enough legends in the back rooms to spark nostalgia. There are Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, and until last year, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard.
Still, nothing screams WrestleMania season more than Amit Mishra turning up at 40 - and looking every bit 40 - and ripping big legbreaks and wrong'uns and returning figures of 4-0-23-2 with two overs bowled at the death.
This, though, is cricket. An unscripted sport. Not professional wrestling where the promoters create matches and stipulations where the legends - code for oldies - can hang in with young pro wrestlers. If the legend is struggling, they can call an audible and finish early. Where's that option in cricket, you are no doubt asking.
The IPL in its current form, though, can make it possible. Under the Impact Player regulation, Mishra doesn't have to be on the field for the length of the match. It creates space for super specialists, who come in, execute their primary skill, and don't have to bother about fielding and the other skill. Mishra, though, stayed on just long enough to pull off a diving catch. The rest of the greatest hits were with the ball.
Also making it possible for Mishra to play is Lucknow Super Giants' shrewd premiere of the future of home advantage. For their last home match, they had rolled out a quick red-soil pitch against Delhi Capitals, who were still awaiting Anrich Nortje's arrival. Against a pace-heavy Sunrisers Hyderabad, who let go of Rashid Khan before the 2022 season, Super Giants chose to play on the black soil that famously produced a sub-100 thriller not long ago.
Keep an eye out for the pitches Super Giants play their remaining five home games on.
We are not complaining. We got to see Mishra playing on the telly for the first time since April 2021. He doesn't play first-class or List A cricket anymore. He turns up for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy to keep himself available for the IPL, but had no takers last year. This pitch and the Impact Player regulation gave him a comeback, and his fifth IPL team. He must have resisted the "legends leagues" money just for this one opportunity.
Make no mistake, Mishra is a legend of the IPL. He is its fourth-highest wicket-taker, he has taken three hat-tricks, and has gone at only 7.33 an over. He didn't walk out to the kind of pop returning wrestling legends get, but he did come out with an experimental look: long hair, thick beard, thicker moustache. You would have been forgiven for thinking: here's the neighbourhood bully who can't run around but stands and brutalises bowlers with boundaries.
Except that Mishra bowls. And there is nothing brutal about what he does. Introduced in the 13th over, the second ball he bowled - the first to a right-hand batter - spun past Rahul Tripathi. Those supple wrists were imparting the revs just fine. You may as well have had Michael Cole screaming "vintage Amit Mishra" into his microphone.
It will take only a particular set of circumstances for Mishra to keep playing, but if ever there was a time for it to happen, the first year of the Impact Player rule and a team that can produce tailored conditions for its home games is it.
Jokes aside, there was an unscripted contest on. Mishra had to prove he was fit for purpose. Just the greatest hits wouldn't do. To the left-hand batter, he bowled a restrictive trajectory, and the slider and the wrong'un. He tried to get out of overs with flatter deliveries last ball. And then he also bluffed with a really slow legbreak to end the 17th. He even put in a full-length dive to make up for his slow early movement to take a catch at short third.
In the 19th came two wickets, as Mishra beat Washington Sundar off the track and Adil Rashid in the air. There aren't many warmer and fuzzier feelings in T20 cricket than Mishra slowing it down and bowling orthodox, traditional, hard-spun legbreaks when spinners are losing out on selection because they are too slow in the air. He then went off as soon as he completed his allotment of overs, which might happen earlier in future games now that Mishra has dispelled fears of ring rust.
It will take only a particular set of circumstances for Mishra to keep playing, but if ever there was a time for it to happen, the first year of the Impact Player rule and a team that can produce tailored conditions for its home games is it. Could it be? Could it just be MishiMania this year?

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo