Ferociously fast and thrillingly direct: how Mayank went bang, bang, bang

At just 21, he brings the IPL alive with extreme pace, a rare commodity in more than one way

There are many ways of knowing that a bowler is seriously quick. There's the cold, hard evidence of the speed gun. There's the effect all that pace has on the batter, which can manifest itself as feet moving too little or too much, hands going out of control, and a general sense of being ill at ease.
Mayank Yadav was ticking both those boxes on Saturday night. You could see, plainly, that he was exceptionally quick. And you could hear it, because each of his bursts through the crease was accompanied by… not a grunt, exactly, because that implies unnatural physical strain, but an audible exhalation as streamlined as everything else about his bowling.
We often watch cricket with our attention wandering in and out of the action until something happens that makes us close all our social-media tabs and sit up properly. Watching and hearing Mayank bowl was like that. When he greeted Jitesh Sharma with a first-ball bouncer that was too quick to get any bat on, something about the ball's path into the keeper's gloves may have reminded you, perhaps, of Shoaib Akhtar. Not the action or the batter's reaction, but just the way the ball kept rising after it went past the stumps.
By the end of the evening, Varun Aaron, a man who had had a similar effect on speedguns and audiences when he burst onto the national cricketing consciousness over a decade ago, was full of admiration for this fellow practitioner, and the mechanics of his action, particularly how quickly Mayank was getting through the crease, and his release position: with front knee braced and foot pointing straight at the target.
"Number one, he hardly spends any time on his back foot," Aaron said on Timeout, ESPNcricinfo's post-game show. "Really quick through [the crease], though he's a side-on bowler. Generally, side-on bowlers spend a lot of time on the back foot. He's just - ball of the foot, and out of there.
"He uses his levers really well, similar to Jofra [Archer]. He's not a similar bowler to Jofra Archer, but just the way his load comes down, uses his levers really well. Beautiful braced front leg. His [front] foot doesn't even splay, even this much (gestures with thumb and forefinger less than an inch apart) - it's straight on to the batsman. Unbelievable follow-through. What else do you want?"
What else? Well, just more of the same, please. A lot more, all the time.
Except, every cricket fan knows that express pace is a rare commodity in more than one way. Like Aaron, like Akhtar, like Archer, and the vast majority of tearaway quicks through history, Mayank too has experienced long spells out of the game with injury, and he's still only 21. Lucknow Super Giants signed him at the 2022 IPL auction, but this was his first game for them. It was only his 11th T20 game overall, and he's only played one first-class match and 17 List A games in a senior career that began in December 2021.
Such can be the life of a genuine fast bowler. A life of long and seemingly interminable waits.
Sunday, though, was one of those belated appearances that was fully worth the wait. A debut of extreme, game-changing pace. Before his introduction, Punjab Kings were bossing a chase of 200. By the time his four overs were done, Kings were done too.
There was a ruthless simplicity to how it unfolded. Ekana has become notorious for slow turners, but this wasn't the first time LSG had unleashed high pace on a red-soil pitch: their first home game last season, against Delhi Capitals, had followed a not-dissimilar script, with Mark Wood picking up a five-for in a defence of 193. Wood had used the short ball devastatingly that day, and now, just under a year later, it was Mayank's turn.
There will be other days on other pitches when Mayank shows us more of his range as a fast bowler. On this day, on this red-soil pitch with a bit of bounce in it, he didn't really feel the need to. At the post-match presentation, he said he had initially planned to mix things up and throw in the odd slower ball, but decided to keep things simple once he realised how much purchase he was getting by bowling fast and hitting the deck hard.
Simple, and thrillingly direct. He took three wickets, and all three - of Jonny Bairstow, Prabhsimran Singh and Jitesh Sharma - were roughly the same. On each occasion, the batter looked to make room and use Mayank's pace to access the shorter boundary on the off side. Each time, Mayank used his pace, inward angle and awkward bounce expertly to force them to go leg-side instead, while both hurrying them and cramping them for room.
Bang, bang, bang. These weren't the classic cricketing dismissals of bowled, lbw and catches off the outside edge, but they were proper T20 wickets, a bowler forcing errors through skill, accuracy and scoreboard pressure. And at the speeds, Mayank was bowling at - he clocked the fastest ball of IPL 2024, at 155.8kph, during the course of his spell - the accuracy was especially noteworthy.
"Unbelievable follow-through. What else do you want?"
Varun Aaron on Mayank Yadav
"His lines were really, really good," Aaron said. "Sometimes when you're maxing out and you're trying to bowl as fast as possible, you can be a little extra on the off side or stray down the leg side. Not one ball [was off line]. I think it's really good signs - not just for him, for Indian cricket, because he's bowling some serious gas."
Aaron knows all too well the small margins of express pace at the top level. So does Umran Malik, the most recent express bowler to light up the IPL and earn an India call-up. ESPNcricinfo expert Tom Moody, who has worked with Malik as Sunrisers Hyderabad's head coach, feels the smoothness of Mayank's action could give him an edge.
"Same pace, same excitement initially, upfront," Moody said. "My initial take on Mayank versus Umran is that there's a better action and repeatable action with what we've seen tonight, in Mayank. He's still 21, so it's really important that he's managed carefully, physically, because that's a real red zone for fast bowlers, between the age of 18 to 25. I'm sure that the experts will have their arms around him, protecting him, and making sure that they get him strong in the right areas.
"Umran, a lot more going on at the crease with regards to his action, so therefore the control isn't there but the pace is there. So what Umran needs to work on is that control at the crease, making his action cleaner, and what we've seen tonight is another step ahead. And that's just come naturally. He's been gifted with that, and he's just started to bowl. It's very hard to get someone that hasn't got a braced front leg to suddenly learn how to brace their front leg as a fast bowler. You've either got it or you haven't got it. It's very hard to develop it."
You either have it or you don't. Mayank has it, and we're all strapped in for the ride, dreaming and hoping.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo