Mumbai’s U-19 Cricket Team was left reeling against Delhi’s formidable bowling attack. Seven wickets down and in search of an elusive first innings lead, Mairaj Khan came in to bat and crafted a rock-solid 98*. He might have missed out on a hundred that day but the innings helped him understand something about himself. “This was one of the games that will always stand out for me. It was the first time I went in to bat in a situation like this and realised I could do well at such times.”
Mairaj’s superior cricketing ability doubtless played a role but it was his calm and composed manner that helped him stride forward. “Staying calm is something I have in my genes from my mother. It helps get the best out of me and my cricket as well.”
Mairaj, 24, is another exciting young cricketer from Mumbai’s great cricketing tradition. He is a genuine all-rounder who can bat anywhere in the order and bowl long untiring spells of off-spin. In the 2015 Ranji Trophy season, he was picked in the squad for the semi-final against Karnataka. He has also played in the Durham Cricket League in England, where he picked 50 wickets and amassed 800 league runs in the season.
Captain of the Shivaji Park Gymkhana (SPG) senior team, Mairaj’s first cricketing memory involves his father who got him interested in the sport. As a 10-year-old, Mairaj was selected in the Shivaji Park Gymkhana Academy, fully sponsored and with coaches like Pravin Amre, Padmakar Shivalkar and Sandesh Kawle.
“I think that’s where my journey began as a cricketer. I didn’t know it was such a big deal and was just happy to be instantly selected and around the best of cricketers. Travelling daily from Bhayandar to Shivaji Park in crowded trains was my biggest challenge,” says Mairaj.
When he was 16, Mairaj was slotted in SPG’s senior side. Young though he was, Mairaj didn’t let the age-gap faze him for long. “It is intimidating playing older people but after a while you realise it’s just cricket and age doesn’t matter. If you are good enough, you must perform at that level.”
Thriving in the age group categories from U-14 to U-19, Mairaj was in for a surprise when he made the senior team at the age of 18. “At the end of the season, I realised I needed to be better and that being good at the U-19 level was not good enough.”
Working closely with former Indian cricketer and then captain Ramesh Powar, Mairaj picked up some useful tips. “He would just keep telling me how to play and do things and practice. It was the same phase that I went on to play for Mumbai Ranji trophy as well. That season helped me quite a lot.”
Listening closely to the coaches’ guidance also helped Mairaj understand the intricacies of professional cricket. “My coaches at the SPG academy, my club and all my MCA (Mumbai Cricket Association) coaches have helped me a lot along the way.”
Apart from his level-headed approach he firmly believes it was his support system played a significant role in his rise as a cricketer. “My parents have put in a lot of effort for me and always supported me. The comfort of coming back and being with friends and family, even after having a bad day, helps a lot.”
As modern-day cricket is thriving on all-rounders, Mairaj’s magic with both bat and ball puts him in a prized category of players and he knows that he is quite capable of making it to the next level. “I just want to keep doing better. My first role is to do well for SPG, then get into a first-class Ranji Trophy team and from there, hopefully, play for the country.”
He shares the most important lessons he has learnt so far, “Practise day in and day out. You’ll only get better by practicing. Looking at people who are doing better than you, see how they do it and keep improving your game on a daily basis. That is how I did it.”