Mayank Markande – The Accidental Leg-spinner’s…

New Delhi: For Bikram Sharma, a government servant in the city of Patiala in Punjab and his wife Sandeep Sharma, a boutique owner, life hasn’t been the same since the beginning of 2018. Over the last decade, the couple had devoted most of their time in helping their son fulfill his dreams of becoming a professional cricketer. Despite him being picked by three-time IPL champions Mumbai Indians, the couple didn’t expect their 20-year old son to play in the tournament’s season opener. To watch him not just play the match but also pick up the big wicket of former India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, was a priceless moment.

“Mayank would ask me to play cricket with him as a kid. I realised he was very keen about the sport and put him in an academy. His mother and I would take him everywhere for the cause of cricket. Be it local tournaments or camps, we did everything to let Mayank follow his dreams. There was opposition from his school when he was representing Punjab in age group tournaments, but we decided to let him pursue his dreams.”

“Even when he was picked up by Mumbai Indians, we just thought that he could get to play a few matches towards the end of the round robin matches. But to see him play the opener and pick up the wicket of MS Dhoni was unbelievable. We couldn’t believe what was happening,” an elated Bikram Sharma told Cricketnext, while talking about his son Mayank Markande’s sensational debut in the IPL.

Markande picked up three wickets in Mumbai Indians’ opener against Chennai Super Kings and followed that up with a four-wicket haul against Sunrisers Hyderabad. While the defending champions were on the wrong end of the result on both occasions, Markande caught everyone’s attention with his guile and variety.

“He was working with me on his plans for certain batsmen here in Patiala before the IPL. After the match against CSK, we spoke over phone the next morning and he told me that he had planned MS Dhoni’s dismissal. He had even planned Rayudu’s dismissal by bowling him the flipper. The most important thing about Mayank is the amount of confidence he has, even as a youngster. He knows everything about his own game and works accordingly. This will hold him in good stead in future as he will now step into first-class cricket,” a proud coach Mahesh Inder Singh told Cricketnext.

Punjab off-spinner Mahesh Inder Singh, a veteran of 55 first-class matches, has spent over two decades, training and coaching budding cricketers in Punjab. He guided his own son, Reetinder Singh Sodhi, to the Indian national team. It was Singh, who first spotted Markande’s flexible wrists and asked him to shift his focus from pace bowling to leg spin.

“He was 8 years old when he joined my academy around 2006. There was a spark in him even as a kid. He was interested in becoming a fast bowler as a youngster. He used to bowl a particular delivery which was like a slower one coming out of the back of his hand. I observed him a few times and realised that his wrists had a natural flexibility. It was pretty much like how BS Chandrasekhar used to bowl.”

“I spoke to his father and asked him if he was fine if we tried to mould him into a leg spinner. His father asked me to take charge of his ward and we started the process to teach the kid how to bowl leg breaks. His wrists are so flexible that he doesn’t need to put in any extra effort to bowl the googlies. He developed an interest in leg spin bowling and that’s how his focus shifted,” Singh said while talking about the turning point in Markande’s cricket career.

Markande has played in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the domestic T20 and ODI tournaments respectively, but is yet to play in the Ranji Trophy for Punjab. His coach feels that his exploits in the IPL will boost his confidence and he could do well in the longer format as well.

“A cricketer’s true pedigree comes to the fore only in the longest format and it is more so for bowlers. Mayank can bowl the traditional leg spin delivery and also has a potent googly, if he manages to achieve a good line and length along with his variations, I see him playing in all formats for Punjab and who knows, an India cap might be waiting for him,” Singh signed off on a hopeful note.

Markande, who has 10 wickets in List A matches and 12 wickets in domestic T20 matches, would for now hope that he could contribute to Mumbai Indians’ campaign this season, which has once against started slowly with three back to back losses.