From a net bowler for Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore to the star of MI’s win over Lucknow Super Giants, Akash Madhwal is the newest star of IPL 2023. The Uttarakhand bowler notched figures of 5/5 as MI beat LSG by 81 runs to win the Eliminator on Wednesday at the MA Chidamabaram Stadium in Chennai.

A former engineer who turned to tennis-ball cricket before joining the Uttarakhand state team in 2018, Madhwal had been a part of MI’s set-up last season as a net bowler. With Jasprit Bumrah and Jofra Archer missing through injuries, Madhwal has stepped up to become one Rohit Sharma’s key wicket-taking options.

When asked about his performance on Wednesday, Madhwal said it was all about taking the opportunity when it presented itself. “My strength is yorker and bhaiya (Rohit Sharma) knew that also. He used me exactly where my strengths were needed. In the nets also, I would do it (take wickets) with a new ball so bhaiya knew that I could do it with a new ball also, in practice matches too. So wherever I had confidence (to take wickets), bhaiya put me in there and I was able to prove myself.”

Replacing the likes of Bumrah and Archer is no easy feat, but Madhwal credits tennis-ball cricket for his ability to bowl yorkers and keep his length good. Commenting on the Chennai wicket, Madhwal said, “It’s a good wicket for pace bowlers, not gripping but skidding. I pitched the ball at hard lengths and got wickets.I’ve only learnt how to bowl yorkers from tennis-ball cricket - there’s only one ball there. So if you bowl up or down, you’ll get hit for 6 so your yorkers have to be perfect.”

Recap Madhwal’s match-winning performance here

Nerves were high on a night when MI needed to win to get one step closer to the final in Ahmedabad. But for Madhwal, his captain had his back throughout the crucial middle-overs stage and it paid off when he took the wickets of Ayush Badoni and Nicolas Pooran to halt LSG’s progress in the match.

Sharma took on that responsibility himself, saying, “First and foremost, it’s important to make them feel special and part of the team. They play a lot of domestic cricket, but this is a different ball game with so many people here. My job as a captain is to make sure they are comfortable on the ground.” Madhwal also agreed with him, saying, “That’s nothing on me, it was all from bhaiya who kept saying, ‘Be calm, be chill, we’ve got your back’.”

Madhwal stressed that because cricket is his passion, there was “no burden on him to play cricket, when you enjoy your passion, then you remain chill and you remain happy.” He also said that as long as the management and team have faith in him, he will continue to deliver when he’s given opportunities. “I just practise, and that is what we execute. The coaches and management come up with plans and our job is to execute them.”

MI will next play the Gujarat Titans in the second Eliminator on Friday for a place in Sunday’s final against the Chennai Super Kings.