Shivam Mavi and KKR: A tale of two comebacks

Shivam Mavi looks back at IPL 2021 final, his own performance and much more.
Shivam Mavi looks back at IPL 2021 final, his own performance and much more.

For 21 of the 22 players participating in the match, the IPL 2021 final in Dubai was done and dusted by the 37th over. Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) skipper and the last recognized batter, Eoin Morgan, had just got out. The team were reeling at 125-8, requiring 68 runs off 21 balls.

The Chennai Super Kings (CSK) players were already halfway into their celebrations of a fourth IPL title. The KKR dugout, too, had their hands up and seemed ready for consolatory applause and handshakes. The last thing on everybody's mind was a comeback.

But for Shivam Mavi, the match was just getting started.

After all, the pacer has spent the entirety of his IPL career producing comebacks. A victim of injuries and debatable team selection, this final was the first time in three years he had played a sixth consecutive IPL match. It was also only his fifth chance getting to bat since 2020.

Whether the match had a lopsided equation or not, there was no way Mavi was letting the opportunity go to waste.

So the 22-year-old carved CSK's death-overs specialist DJ Bravo for 18 runs in the 18th over. There was a find-the-gap boundary past third-man, a sit-on-one-knee six over point, and a Suryakumar Yadav-style flick for six over square leg.

KKR’s No.10 was producing a batting masterclass, much to the delight of head coach Brendon McCullum.

Shivam Mavi’s cameo ended at 20 off 13 - the best output of the innings after the openers. KKR fell short by 27 runs, but Mavi showed there is more to him than what appears on the surface.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, his first since IPL 2021, Shivam Mavi revealed the spadework that went behind the effort in the final.

"I have been batting well since 2019," Mavi said. "Even in England [U-19 tour in 2017], I scored some runs. I have always been able to score boundaries but my six-hitting ability wasn’t so strong earlier. But I have worked with our management in the last two years. They have been very helpful and I have been able to work on every aspect that required improvement."
"Even at the nets in the UAE, I used to go and bat on the off-days," he added. "I was obviously bowling all the time but this time I batted regularly as well. Even in the practice matches, I hit some good sixes. All of this helped in my execution during the match.”

Shivam Mavi’s fightback with the bat in the final grabbed eyeballs, but the big picture of the season was his primary skill - fast bowling.

While KKR have been lauded for their consistent team selection in the last two seasons, the spot of the Indian pacer in their XI has been a bit of a musical chairs game. Shivam Mavi, Prasidh Krishna, Sandeep Warrier and Kamlesh Nagarkoti, the contestants, have put up good shows, but haven't got the extended run that every young pacer longs for.

Mavi was dropped after he conceded six boundaries in one over to Prithvi Shaw during the India leg of IPL 2021. He subsequently failed to get a look-in until both Krishna and Warrier had one bad game in the UAE.

So when he did play again, Mavi once again had the 'take it or leave it' message loud and clear in his head. In this regard, he said:

"I would also like to talk about last year. I didn’t get a lot of chances so whenever I played I always felt like I was making a comeback. In this IPL, my funda was simple: whichever match I play, whether I am playing after a break or regularly, I just wanted to focus on it separately and perform the best I could for the team.
"It’s not the case where if I perform once, I’ll keep on thinking about it going forward because that affects the performance negatively. I only focus on performing in one match at a time and winning that match for my team."

The plan worked. With 11 wickets from nine games at an average of 21.18 and a strike rate of 17.55, Shivam Mavi enjoyed his best-ever season in the IPL. And his economy rate - an aspect of his game that has courted criticism in the last two years - was the best (just 7.24) among all KKR fast bowlers.

Stump-to-stump and raw pace - the Shivam Mavi way

The first two games Shivam Mavi played in the UAE leg followed a similar pattern. With the new ball Mavi was tight and relentless, luring the batters to hit against whatever swing he found. At the death he relied on accuracy, pulling his length back and bringing out slower ones, thus challenging the batters to use their own power to clear the ropes.

And it wasn’t just about the pitches. In the third match, a must-win clash against the Rajasthan Royals, the UP lad went back to the basics. With relatively less pressure while defending a mammoth 172, accuracy and precision took a backseat and raw pace became the driving force.

Shivam Mavi took out Sanju Samson off the first ball of his spell, with a length delivery on the pads that went straight to the short mid-wicket fielder waiting for that shot. Glenn Phillips and Shivam Dube were clean-bowled by full, 140 kmph cross-seamers that snuck past their bats when they expected them to bounce.

Rahul Tewatia was the final victim. He was deceived into playing a slog by a wide slower one, only to lose his stumps.

Just like that, Shivam Mavi had his best IPL figures of 4/21. And that too on a pitch that Samson later described as a "much better wicket", where 170-odd was "easily chaseable".

Mavi recalled the spell in vivid detail:

"We had to plan very quickly in that game because when we batted first we realized that it was a sticky wicket with low bounce and it won’t be easy for their batters. I was bowling at 140kph and got some extra skid. And because I was bowling cross-seamers, some deliveries were skidding and others were kicking up.
"I talked to Lockie Ferguson about it and he told me that I can use it [cross-seamers] so it was very helpful on that wicket and we put them under pressure in the first six overs. The plan was simple - bowl stump-to-stump hit a good length and take it away from the batters. And as the bounce was low, my plan was successful and I could take four wickets."

Still, the KKR setup and fans would be justified in asking why Shivam Mavi lacked this consistency in high-pressure situations earlier.

His action was, despite the injury struggles, always quite rhythmic. He always had pace, swing and control too. But the results were often up and down.

Many observers pinned it to the learning curve that every bowler goes through in the cash-rich league. But Mavi revealed that he was plagued by a slightly more nuanced issue - field placement.

And who better for a youngster to go to for cricketing doubts than mentor MS Dhoni?

"I used to have problems with field placements," Mavi said. "So I talked to him (Dhoni) and he gave me a very good solution. He said, 'Firstly set your field where you feel like it. If you get hit for a boundary somewhere else then tweak it according to where you think your ball might go.' Now I am so confident in this that the captain has no issues and I straightaway ask him what field I want."
"And that helps because if you can’t set your field in pressure situations, you'll find it difficult because your focus will be affected and you won’t be able to concentrate on what you want to bowl," he added. "That advice has been very helpful for me."

Had Rahul Tripathi been fit, the result of the final could have been different: Shivam Mavi

Despite MS Dhoni’s unassuming demeanor, it’s not often that he calls an opposition team more deserving of a win than his own, let alone after an emotional tournament. He's won every major title in world cricket, but it was still unusual to hear him say this at the end of the final:

"Before I start talking about CSK, need to talk about KKR. It's difficult to come back and do what they have, if any team deserved to win the IPL, it's KKR."

That is the kind of impact KKR had on IPL 2021. They weren’t considered favorites by many at the start of the India leg, and only lost supporters as the season went on, winning just two of their first seven games. And yet they ultimately came within a whisker of claiming the trophy.

So what changed? How did they go on to win five of the next seven matches, and then defeat Royal Challengers Bangalore and Delhi Capitals in the playoffs?

According to Shivam Mavi, the top order batting played a big role.

"During the first leg, our intent wasn’t visible in the powerplay," Mavi said. "So after the first six overs, we used to be at 20/3 or something. But in the second leg, we got a new opener in Venkatesh Iyer."
"So while the wickets remained similar there [the UAE] the intent was very good and we got good opening stands in all games," he added. "That, plus the team combination perhaps played a bit better there and we could win that many games and reach the final."

Even in the final, KKR were 90-0 in 10.3 overs, seemingly cruising in their chase of 192 on a pretty good pitch. But as it often happens in the IPL, the tide flipped at the most crucial moment.

The team’s second-highest scorer of the season, Rahul Tripathi, pulled his hamstring while fielding in the match. Subsequently, nearly every lofted shot found a fielder, Shardul Thakur brought out his Midas touch, and the dream run fell apart.

Shivam Mavi reminisced about the game and what went wrong:

"Everything went well for those 30 overs, the wicket was very good as well. After the first 10 overs in our innings, we were at 90. When Venkatesh Iyer got out, Rahul Tripathi was already injured so the combination we had after the openers got disturbed.
"The middle-order’s form in the last 5-6 matches wasn’t good either. Rahul Tripathi’s injury disturbed the setup that was working so well for us. If you see, it was just 27 runs [the defeat margin] and had he played in the middle, the result would perhaps have been a bit different.”

Mavi also insisted that fatigue was not a contributing factor to their loss.

"No there was nothing like it [if fatigue played a role]," he said. "Our bodies were fresh and it wasn’t like we were very tired. Everything was going well but perhaps we got our planning a bit wrong; a stumping chance was missed and we missed a few fielding opportunities as well. Had we restricted them to 180 we might have won that game. There were just these small, small mistakes that cost us."

We've been talking about Shivam Mavi’s comeback all this while, but in the KKR team, every second player was fighting his individual battle.

Shubman Gill was trying to prove that he could bat with a good strike rate after a torrid first half of the season, Sunil Narine was desperate to show that he'd still got it, Lockie Ferguson was keen to command selection ahead of Pat Cummins.

The team engine was being fueled by belief and motivation. And when all of that came crashing down within 10 overs, the emotions ran high in the dressing room.

Shivam Mavi reflected on that, even comparing it to the U19 World Cup final.

"We have played the U-19 World Cup final before but it was the first time the youngsters were playing in an IPL final," he said. "We got very emotional. Obviously, when you lose a final anybody will be emotional. Our thinking [before the match] was about 'If we win, what a feeling it would be!' But it couldn’t happen so the emotions came out."

Looking ahead

Although India sent a second-string side to Sri Lanka, Shivam Mavi missed out - even from the net-bowlers list - despite his decent first half of IPL 2021. At the time, many said that a slightly better performance would have gotten him a call-up.

But now the net-bowlers for the T20 World Cup have been announced, and it has emerged that three of the eight who got selected didn’t play a single match in IPL 2021. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Shivam Mavi, after such an electric IPL season, deserved more attention - at least as an outright pacer if not an all-rounder.

The KKR speedster expected a call-up hiself. But instead of sulking about it, he is looking to control the controllable and focus on his future performance.

"Honestly, yes, I was expecting that I'd get a callup," Mavi said. "I have been performing well and it was a similar case last year too. I can only do what’s in my control. Yes, I certainly expected it but it’s not in my hands. I can only perform and I’ll do that."

This might well be the selectors' way of pushing him to take his game to the next level. But even if it is not, Shivam Mavi isn't one to back away from a fight. We can rest assured that he’ll make a comeback, again.

Note: Shivam Mavi is exclusively represented by FairPlay Sports, a sports marketing agency with offices in Delhi, Noida, Bangalore and Jamshedpur.

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