Bowling 100 overs a day, Mihir Hirwani is finally stepping out of his father’s shadows and carving his own niche

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Mihir Hirwani

Bowling 100 overs a day, Mihir Hirwani is finally stepping out of his father’s shadows and carving his own niche

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Bastab K Parida

10/31/2018

“Usme Baap jaisi baat nahi hai.” God knows how many times Mihir Hirwani had to listen to this sentence ever since he started playing cricket. First, he became worried by judgement and the fear of living up to the father’s lofty reputations crept in, but later he went on to “make peace” with it.

Then the normal story began - one of hard work, consistency and the ambition to be recognised as Mihir Hirwani and not the son of Narendra Hirwani. He started putting in hard yards in the off-season and even bowls no less than 100 overs a day in the nets for five days a week to hone his skills. Mihir knew that he couldn’t care any less about him being the son of a cricketer, who had once ripped apart fearsome West Indies on his international debut to secure figures of 16/136 and giving India a memorable victory in the process and will always be judged through the Narendra Hirwani prism. 

“When I started playing cricket, it was very natural. I always loved this game and Papa never forced me to take up cricket or leg-spin for that matter. Obviously, he was always there and has been my coach since I began playing this game. I used to get affected by all those comments, but then a point came when I understood it was just a distraction. If I have to make it big, I have to give my all as a cricketer,” Mihir told SportsCafe in a candid chat over the phone.

Talk to Mihir and you will realize how much he loves his craft and how much he thinks about it. Be it pinpointing what Rashid Khan did wrong on his Test debut to analyzing the technicalities of Mujeeb Ur Rahman’s googlies, Mihir has an eye for it all. Listen to him and he will tell you how he mastered Shane Warne’s “jooter” - a type of flipper which drifts inside with an erect seam position. And when he starts telling his story, which started with “Ramu Chacha” on the backyards of an open marriage field in front of their Indore home, he doesn't hurry at all but carefully goes through the details.

But as the narrative started with the comparison with his father, it is only apt to go back to the senior Hirwani once. After representing Uttar Pradesh U-15 in the zonal level, Narendra Hirwani, with the help of Giridhari Mishra, a UP cricketer, and Vijay Sonkar, an MP cricketer, moved to Indore in order to pursue his game further. It was Sonkar who gave shelter to him and Ramu Chacha at his home. It was from there Hirwani started playing for Madhya Pradesh before going on to play 17 Test matches for India too.

The journey that Hirwani took to reach the highest level was one of the financial difficulties and very little support from home. Even when he made it big and went on to play for India, he had never seen his parents or siblings coming to any of the cricket stadiums to watch him play. And that was enough for him to make sure that his son would need proper guidance at home and thus he became his coach. 

“We don’t talk anything other than cricket at home. It is always about mental discipline, technique and matches. Even after a tough day when I reach home, I first need to explain about my cricket to Papa and then do anything. He has always been so curious about my game and we hardly talk about other things. My mum and my sister Anushka are for that. They balance my life. Papa and me always discuss cricket,” Mihir stressed.

While Mihir did make a mark in his U-13 days playing for Cricket Club of Indore (CCI), his junior career never really took off. Sure enough, he was picking wickets regularly and never really underperformed, but to gain sudden prominence in India, one needs to pick wickets for fun. The presence of skipper Aditya Shrivastava, who also used to bowl leg-spin in his junior days, meant Mihir was dropped from the team in 2010 and made his comeback to the U-19 team on the back of good performances in the 2012-13 season of the Dhruve Pandove Trophy, a junior invitational tournament organised by Punjab Cricket Association. 

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The turning point in his career was during the 2014 season, where he took 17 wickets in five matches in the MPCA senior division tournament and to get more opportunities to bowl leg-spin, he even changed his club to Maharaja Yeshwantrao Cricket Club (MYCC) from CCI. It gave him the boost that he desperately needed as his nine wickets in the U-23 CK Nayudu tournament fast-tracked his progress to the Ranji team.

After making his Ranji debut in the same season, he waited for more opportunity with baited breath and the next season gave him the chance to prove his worth. He vindicated the faith by picking up 12 wickets in the season at an average of 25.16 to help the team reach the semi-finals, but was not included for the following season.

Being a leg-spinner in India comes with its own peril. With the wicket being more pacer-conducive in the domestic cricket, playing three pacers and two spinners have been a norm among all teams of the country. When Mihir graduated to the senior level, MP had Jalaj Saxena and Ankit Sharma in the team and it was not easy breaking through. Jalaj, for long, has established a name for himself by being among the top wicket-takers in the country and is undoubtedly one of the best all-rounders on the Indian domestic cricket circuit at the moment. On the other hand, Ankit, after gaining prominence in the IPL, has been their spin spearhead after Jalaj went to Kerala to play as a professional.

“Jalaj and Ankit were there in the team when I made my Ranji debut. Imagine I was competing for a spot with the best in the country. Mera competition koi mediocre se nehi tha. I knew that if I become the best in this team, then I will automatically be the best in the country. The healthy competition was always there and that helped me grow,” Mihir said.

Jalaj moved down south giving an option to Mihir and he needed to grab it with open arms. 31 wickets at an average of 23.96 with four five-wicket haul is the way he took it. By then, the line “Hiru Bhai jaise baat nahi hai” had started to blur and people took notice when he was selected to represent Board President’s XI in a match against South Africa A. While he went wicket-less in the first innings, he picked up a couple of scalps in the second to make a statement.

“It was a gradual progression. I was indeed happy, but I knew that it was not the last step. Every step matters and I live in the present.”

Given the leg-spinning revolution that is happening all over the world at the moment, Mihir now finds himself at a position where he could actually go on to do well in the future. He has all the variations of a leg-spinner and most importantly, he is relentless in his approach. He can bowl 100 overs a day to hone a skill and admits that he is not naturally talented, but has the ability to work on his skills to be the best in the business. It is this confidence that strikes the chord.

It is also this confidence that may augur well for him to carve his own niche and be recognised as Mihir Hirwani and not just the son of Narendra Hirwani. The day it happens, that will be the best tribute by "Chottu" to the senior Hirwani. 

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