Playing sports at a professional level in India is an uphill task and it gets even steeper when its cricket. On top of it all, if you have someone in your family who has played cricket at the highest level, you are buried under heaps of expectations even before you start; this either makes or breaks you.
Mihir Hirwani, a right-arm wrist spinner who went unsold in the glitzy Indian Premier League auctions, was among the top ten wicket takers in the Ranji Trophy season of 2017-18. Interestingly, apart from Gujarat’s Piyush Chawla who bowled 198.5 overs, Mihir’ 212.2 is the least number of overs bowled on that list. With 31 wickets in the tournament, he was the highest wicket-taker for Madhya Pradesh with an impressive average of 23.96.
The burden of expectations
“I batted well in my earlier divisional days, but I was sure that I was going to be a leg-spinner first,” says Mihir who was just 13 when he picked up a 10-wicket haul on debut in an inter-district tournament match.
He garnered a lot of praise in his first year in the state U-16 team but soon the youngster faced an unfair comparison with his father, Narendra Hirwani, also a leg-spinner who played 17 Test matches for India. “They would see me bowl and quickly comment, ‘Oh, your father picked 730-odd Ranji Trophy wickets and he got 16 wickets on Test debut’. There was a lot of peer pressure.”
Mihir explains that his father ensured that he was treated like just any other club cricketer growing up. Mihir never drove a car or even a two-wheeler but rather took the bus to reach the Cricket Club of Indore for the first five years of his career. “I can tell you, that is where I started learning about the game, from outside the ground.”
Life of a young spinner revolves around the number of overs he bowls. Throughout his age group, Mihir played under a captain who also bowled leg spin hence had limited opportunities. He was eventually dropped from the state U-19 side for two years.
Blood, sweat, toil, repeat
“I bowled a minimum of 100 overs every day for five days a week for those two years,” recalls Mihir. That effort paid off with 2014 proving to be a turning point in his career as he took 17 wickets in five matches in senior division tournament, where he was rewarded as the bowler of the tournament. He also picked nine wickets in the U-23 state tournament.
Rolling on the momentum, he decided to play in the Chennai League as it was off season in Indore. “Playing as a professional in that tournament gave me a lot of confidence,” he says.
Also, in the same year, Mihir decided to switch his club from Cricket Club of Indore to Maharaja Yeshwantrao Cricket Club (MYCC), where he had more opportunities to flex his wrists. “For a leg-spinner, it is important to have that freedom of trying out things. At MYCC I just felt free and it was crucial for my game.”
It was his sheer hard work and commitment that earned him the most awaited call of his life. In January 2015, Mihir Hirwani was selected for a Ranji Trophy game against Jammu and Kashmir. ‘Chotu, you’ve been selected for Ranji trophy,’ greeted his mother who was patiently waiting for her son at the doorstep. “Honestly, I was very nervous on the match day but thankfully we batted first and it was fun. But once I had the ball in my hand, it felt right.” In just the four overs that he bowled in the first innings, he managed to pick up two wickets.
Fighting for survival
Madhya Pradesh’s Ranji Trophy side already had two of the most consistent slower bowlers in the tournament. Jalaj Saxena’s supreme accuracy and Ankit Sharma’s undying consistency meant that the rookie leg-spinner had to wait on the sidelines. In the Ranji Trophy season of 2015-16, Mihir bagged a stunning match-haul of 9 for 101 against Baroda. His four wickets in the second innings came in a span of just eight deliveries which prompted his side to a victory.
However, considering the fact that he was still the third spinner in the team, he was subsequently dropped. The following season the leggie was in the squad for six games but didn’t manage to get a match.
A loving family
Despite the setbacks Mihir persisted. Fitness was key for him and so was communication. “I do not talk to my father, I talk to my coach. We discuss every minute detail about my technique,” says the 23-year-old who considers his father as his biggest inspiration. His younger sister, meanwhile, monitors his academics. "She is the one who keeps a track of my exams and ensures that I appear them," says Mihir who is pursuing a BCom degree from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). His mother has been a discipling factor as well. “My mother knows quite more than any other coaches in India, let me tell you that”, he jokes.
With two good trials at the Mumbai Indians and Delhi Daredevils and at the back of a successful domestic season, Mihir was on the cusp of an IPL call-up. But he is convinced that he is going to trust his process that has got him this far. “Performing well is in my hand that is all I am concerned about. I want to keep taking wickets because that is my job.”
When you google Mihir Hirwani, the only image that comes up in the knowledge panel is that of his father. Dawning the India cap remains his ultimate goal, but his efforts alone should be a reason good enough for Google to find him an image; the one he richly deserves.