Indians are often a little quick to jump the gun while celebrating the arrival a new all-rounder.
Take the example of Venkatesh Iyer. One brilliant IPL season, and the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) opener is in the mix for the Indian team. That would likely not have happened had it not been for those 50-odd deliveries he bowled in IPL 2021.
Then there's Royal Challengers Bangalore's (RCB) Harshal Patel, whose Purple Cap win carried more weight because he can also bat. Shardul Thakur's "Lord" title, meanwhile, is attributed not just to his happy knack for taking wickets, but equally to his deceptively effective batting.
This excitement doesn't necessarily come from the skill-sets these guys possess, but from the dearth of economical bowlers with six-hitting capabilities in the country. Like pundits of yore used to say when India repeatedly fell short of Pakistan in bowling riches, the cricket-mad nation has lacked the "right water to produce all-rounders".
But they are getting there. Every couple of years, we see India's Under-19 cricketers take up the arduous challenge of developing more than one skill. In the 2018 U-19 World Cup we had Anukul Roy and Kamlesh Nagarkoti, and in 2016 (ODI) we had Washington Sundar.
While some of these players are waiting for their opportunities, others have already laid their markers in international cricket.
But there was another all-rounder in 2016; a quiet, unobtrusive one, lost between the above two cases. He was India's fourth-highest scorer in that tournament in Bangladesh, with 133 runs at an average of 33.25 while batting at no.6. He was also third highest in terms of wickets - seven scalps at an average of 18.85 and an economy rate of 3.75 - despite the fact that his role was simply damage control.
This all-rounder, Mahipal Lomror, has always shunned the limelight. He plays for Rajasthan and has built a domestic record at par with most left-arm spin all-rounders on the circuit, but he barely gets noticed. He plays for Rajasthan Royals (RR) in the IPL and does the job with the limited opportunities he gets, but he often has to make way for someone who fits the team combination better.
In the Royals' most emphatic win in IPL 2021, against Punjab Kings (PBKS) by two runs, Kartik Tyagi's last grabbed all the attention. What once again went unnoticed was that it was Mahipal Lomror's late blitz of 43 runs at a strike rate of 252.94 (including 24 runs in one over) that took the team to a competitive total in the first place.
Last year, Lomror scored more than 30 percent of his team's runs (from the No. 5 position) against Royal Challengers Bangalore, on the way to an enterprising 47 off 39 on a difficult wicket. But the southpaw got just two more opportunities that season, despite the fact that the Royals were constantly struggling with their middle and lower-middle order.
The pattern has meant that even after four years and 11 matches in the biggest T20 competition, Mahipal Lomror is still waiting to be truly discovered.
Does it affect him? You bet it does. But instead of complaining, he prefers going home and plying his trade for Rajasthan to help achieve the team's unfulfilled dreams. Instead of getting frustrated, he asks his coaches to treat him like a newbie if that helps him improve. Despite being a reserve 21-year-old, he even slips into conversations with Virat Kohli to pick up things he can apply to his game.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Mahipal Lomror talked more about these matters, while also giving his opinion on the Royals' torrid IPL season in the UAE and shedding light on the effort he's putting into his bowling.
Excerpts from Mahipal Lomror's exclusive interview with Sportskeeda
Q. What do you make of this season for RR? Where did it all go wrong and what, according to you, were the positives?
Mahipal Lomror: I think we couldn’t get consecutive wins this season. We never got enough momentum to be safe for qualification or anything like that. We were winning one game and losing the next and couldn’t get a string of wins. The turbulence basically came from our batting collapses.
In most of our games, we lost three to four wickets in quick succession so that went a bit up and down. And the positives, according to me, came from the youngsters’ performances. [Yashasvi] Jaiswal performed well, I did okay too, Kartik Tyagi won us a game and bowled well in other matches as well. These individual performances and youngsters showcasing their talent were the positives for me.
Q. RR were obviously without their three main players - Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes. What was the impact of their absence on the squad, both performance-wise and in terms of the dressing room atmosphere?
Mahipal Lomror: The team’s atmosphere wasn’t impacted much because we had a team meeting as soon as we reached the UAE where we discussed the same thing - "Although they are not with the team, we can’t do anything just by talking about them or missing them. Whatever it is, we have to do it together. We’ll do well if we play responsibly."
But still, they are experienced players and our team had a lot of youngsters so we certainly missed their experience. If we had Jos or Ben Stokes in the middle order during those batting collapses, we would probably have staved off some of them. Experience is very important in T20s so that’s what we missed. But there was no such impact on the team atmosphere.
Q. From the outside, it seemed like the team was making a lot of changes. Even when you guys won brilliant games, there were a few changes in the next match. What did you as a player make of that?
Mahipal Lomror: I think our management decided the playing XIs based on matchups. We were looking at the opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. We were also quite focused on data, like how the different UAE grounds were playing out, etc. These were the few things that were being considered for those changes.
Q. Can you talk to us about Sanju Samson, the captain? He looks like a calm character on the field, but how is he behind the scenes with youngsters like you and with senior members of the team?
Mahipal Lomror: Vo bohot mast aadmi hai off the field (He’s a very easy-going guy off the field). Seeing Sanju on TV people might not expect him to be fun-loving or might find him very quiet or serious. But I've known him for five to six years now, and he’s one of the funniest guys in our squad. He’s very casual with everyone, very supportive.
If he finds a teammate to be low on confidence or struggling with his performances, Sanju’s the kind of person who spends even more time with that guy to make him feel good and bring his confidence up. He’s the same with everyone, including the seniors, and especially the newcomers.
He shares his experiences with them, gives them advice on how to improve. He’s very supportive.
Q. Let’s come to your own performance. You were brilliant against PBKS, and some of the shots that you played against their spinners were truly incredible. Can you talk us through that innings?
Mahipal Lomror: In that match, there was a question about sending me or Riyan [Parag]. But then [Kumar] Sangakkara sir told me that spinners are bowling and it’s the middle overs so I will go because I am comparatively a better hitter against spinners than the pacers. It was my own game plan and also my role in the team - if spinners are bowling consecutively, go and hit boundaries against them.
When I got out there, Yashasvi was batting at one end and he said to me, "Bhaiya, I’ll play the long game because I am set. If you think you can hit the spinners for a few hits, you try and do that." So that was the plan and it worked so I went with the flow and got a few good hits. We had wickets on the back end so I was only thinking about maximizing the opportunity to make it as beneficial for the team as possible.
Q6. And then there were a couple of knocks in difficult conditions, where things didn’t come off as you would have wanted. You were subsequently dropped from the team too. How did you as a youngster cope with that, and what role did Sangakkara and Samson play in helping you get through it?
Mahipal Lomror: There are 23-24 players in every team and managing them is a difficult task and I understand that. I have been Rajasthan’s captain where you have to manage 15 guys and pick 11 from them which is also difficult and here they had 23-24 international-level players.
Sangakkara sir was the first to come to me when I got dropped. He was the one who informed me that I won’t play the match. So he said, “Disappointment is obvious and a natural thing when you are playing well and haven’t done anything wrong.” But the point once again was that we needed a team combination according to the match-ups. He said, "I know you are disappointed but try and take it in a positive way and look to improve even more.”
I talked to Sanju as well and he said, “No one becomes a star or a bad player because of one game. Just keep focussing on your game and you might play the next match again so keep yourself prepared for that. Whenever you get an opportunity, try and give your 100 percent and control the controllables.” I am also a firm believer in focussing on the things I can control. Selection is not in my control so I don’t want to think about it too much.
Q7. Your team-mates from the 2016 U-19 World Cup are at different stages of their careers, and some are now an integral part of their IPL teams. Have you at any point wondered whether you might have been able to be in the same place, and maybe showcase your talent even better, if you were given more opportunities in the IPL?
Mahipal Lomror: Yes, sometimes I feel that I could have got more opportunities, those three to four extra matches on some occasions. But the team’s combinations and requirements are such that someone else is playing your role already. Like my role is of a finisher and Rahul [Tewatia] bhai was playing that really well last year so I didn’t get any opportunities.
Then I got promoted up the order and played three to four games including a good knock. But then Ben Stokes came in so the combination was once again such that I had to get dropped. So, yes, I feel that sometimes that if I had got those opportunities I could have been in a similar stable position in my team as my teammates from the U-19 World Cup are. But it is what it is (smiles).
Q8. You are an economical bowler who forces the batsman to play a bad shot and get out. But did being around the likes of Tabraiz Shamsi, Shreyas Gopal and other aggressive spinners have an impact on your bowling? And is there something that you worked upon or looked to add?
Mahipal Lomror: I have focussed quite a lot on my bowling since the Under-19 World Cup. I look to add one thing every year, currently, I am trying to add the carrom ball and one or two more variations. I might have tried it in the IPL, but I didn’t get such a match situation to try it.
My role was just to bowl two to three overs when a bowler was struggling and needed cover. My role was clear - to be economical, stop the boundaries, and not to go for wickets too much.
I talked to Shreyas and Shamsi bhai during nets and practice matches. I learned a lot of things from them regarding how to finish an over, how to read the batsman, what can be the bowling plans depending on the situation. And Shamsi bhai is the best T20 bowler, I got a lot of help from him and also tried to learn a few variations. So I think it will certainly help me somewhere down the line.
Q9. There's this beautiful ritual where senior players share their thoughts with youngsters after the match. We saw Virat Kohli giving a pep talk after the RCB vs RR game. What were the conversations like, and did you get any specific advice from him?
Mahipal Lomror: That conversation was started by Yashasvi I just sneaked in (chuckles). I was just looking for something that I could understand like his mindset while batting or anything that I could apply in my game because he’s a great player. So a similar conversation was going on with Yashasvi.
I also went there and he told me, “The way you build your innings is very important in cricket. You can’t just play one way, that if you have to hit, then you’ll do just that. Cricket is a situational game, sometimes you’ll have to play at the strike rate of 100 but sometimes you’ll have to play at 200-250.”
It was all about how you can prepare his mindset and how the thoughts should be, how you can pick your bowler from the dugout, if it’s a spinning track, how you can aim for the pacers, or if it’s a flat track then spinners, how you can build an innings, how you can play the long game and that all of these things are very important for the next level. It was a pretty good conversation.
Q. You also got that little signed bat from Sachin Tendulkar. Was that your first time meeting him? Can you describe the moment?
Mahipal Lomror: I have met Sachin [Tendulkar] sir before as well for photographs but didn’t talk though. And that bat was actually for one of our crew members (chuckles). I did get his signature on my cap because I don’t wear it during the match.
I thought I have bought a new house in Jaipur recently, so why not get his sign and keep it framed nicely. He’s the God of Cricket so there should always be something like that. I have kept it in my own room only.
And what could I say about that moment? I am a very shy guy; whenever some legend or such player comes in front of me I become speechless. I just remained silent and only said this: “Sir, autograph” (laughs).
Q11. Were there any other lessons you took from the season that you might want to share?
Mahipal Lomror: There were many such moments. Before the first leg, I was COVID-19 positive so got a bit late to enter the team bubble. I had to miss out on the practice matches which made me a bit frustrated because I missed a good opportunity to do well and make it to the team. So all these things were playing in my mind when during a net session I hit the wicket with my bat.
Sangakkara sir saw that, came to me and politely talked to me. He said, “These things happen, if you are getting frustrated this means that you are thinking about your game and want to improve which is making you angry. This is all human nature which will stay the same. But remember how many people will watch and learn from you.
"There are net bowlers and youngsters who’ll watch and learn from you. If you react like this then you’ll see that you are a role model for a lot of people here and in Rajasthan as well. So, you have to control your anger a bit while seeing the situation."
So that was one piece of advice which I think was very useful to me. I am a bit short-tempered in this matter. If I want to do a specific thing in practice and if I don’t get it for whatever reason, I lose my temper quickly. I am trying to control this and when I thought about it later I understood that he was right.
I have also learned some things from my seniors and if a junior player here or in Rajasthan is trying to learn from me then I definitely don’t want to teach them this.
Q12. There always seems to be space for an all-rounder in the Indian team. And being someone who can bat in the middle order and lower order, you are in a bit of a sweet spot. Are you targeting that place in the squad too? If yes, how do you plan to reach there?
Mahipal Lomror: Yeah, it definitely runs in my mind always that someday I have to fill that all-rounder space in the Indian team. And I try to remind myself that after every few days. It motivates me that my aim is in front of me and I work even harder and focus even more on my batting and bowling. It feels good too when I have that thing in the back of my mind.
It happens sometimes in Rajasthan that when you are practicing at the club as an IPL player - there are not many IPL players from here - you are put on a pedestal. So I have told my coaches already that it’s just a start, we don’t want to go that way so whenever I come if you find me a bit over-confident, if I am not being attentive in practice, or if you feel I should do something then you can still scold and punish me.
I also want the same effort from them that if they feel that I need to do a particular thing then they’ll make me do it at any cost.
So that’s the only aim that motivates me to do such things. It’s always on my mind.
Q13. Now the attention will once again turn to the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy and the domestic competitions. You had a good season last time. What are your plans and goals this time around?
Mahipal Lomror: The plan is simple. Since I started playing T20s for Rajasthan, we have perhaps played one final and two or three semi-finals in the last five years. So the plan is to lift that cup. The preparations for it will start soon, our camps will begin in a couple of days.
There’s nothing special except the fact that we haven’t been able to go all the way and it’s been a long time since we have won a cup, almost 10 years. We always do well in T20s so our ultimate aim is to bring the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy to Rajashthan.
Note: Mahipal Lomror is exclusively represented by FairPlay Sports, a sports marketing agency with offices in Delhi, Noida, Bangalore and Jamshedpur.