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Indian Premier League 2021

Lalit Yadav: The Najafgarh boy who could do wonders

Lalit Yadav
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 5 minute read

All-rounder Lalit Yadav made his IPL debut in 2021 for Delhi Capitals and earned praise for his early showings. Aadya Sharma speaks to the 24-year-old about his journey so far.

“He can do wonders”.

Last month Rishabh Pant, who himself knows a thing or two about doing wonders on a cricket field, spoke highly of his little-known Delhi Capitals teammate Lalit Yadav after a win over Mumbai Indians. Batting at four ahead of Pant, Shimron Hetmyer and Marcus Stoinis, Lalit played his part in a sluggish 138-run chase with an unbeaten 25-ball 22. His promotion raised eyebrows, but skipper Pant – a teammate in domestic cricket – stood firmly behind the move.

The general curiosity around Lalit is understandable, and his first three IPL innings didn’t truly exhibit the range of talent he possesses – his 54 runs were delivered at a strike rate below 100. But across his career, the all-rounder strikes at 143 in T20s and averages 26.60 with his off-breaks, and it’s his uninhibited hard-hitting that has made him really stand out in his path to Delhi’s state side and beyond. Remarkably, he’s hit six sixes in an over twice in local cricket.

“I wasn’t thinking of anything. It just came instinctively,” Lalit tells Wisden India, recalling his first set of six sixes in a game five years ago. “I was playing on 50 something and it was the 17th over… I kept looking and hitting. The second time also, I got the same result.”

“That instinct that I want to dominate the bowler comes naturally. Right from the first ball, before the bowler executes his plan, I execute mine so that he’s on the backfoot.”

The batting style is reminiscent of a young Virender Sehwag. Lalit, too, hails from the small town of Najafgarh and was inspired by Sehwag’s journey from the outskirts of Delhi to superstardom in international cricket.

In late 2017, Lalit showcased his talents in the CK Nayudu Trophy for Delhi’s under-23s with bat and ball to break into Delhi’s Ranji team and his career records so far are impressive: largely featuring in the late-middle order, Lalit averages 40.71 and 41.72 in first-class and List-A cricket. In the latter, he averages 29.60 with the ball and owns career-best figures of 5-25.

His big breakthrough came last year when he was signed up by the Capitals for IPL 2020, finding a spot among a bevvy of international superstars and under the guidance of an all-time great.

“When I came to the IPL for the first time last year,” Lalit recalls, “I received a message from Ricky Ponting, which read: ‘Hi Lalit, Ricky Ponting this side.’ For a minute or two, I was like: ‘No man, why would Ponting message me from his end!’

“But after that, it never felt that I am talking to a legend or sharing a dressing room with him. It felt like he’s a companion, a friend. At times, he has been harsh too, but he stays very cool. Never makes you feel that he’s been a great player.

“I’ve received a lot of nice inputs from him – last year, he told me four, five different things that have been helping me. Even now, he keeps telling me how to improve myself.”

The senior and illustrious trio of Steve Smith, Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane have also been on hand for advice, suggesting that Lalit never let go of his natural style.

“[They told me] ‘Whatever you have been doing till now, keep faith in that. Try nothing different. If you’ve done it in domestic cricket, you can do it here also. Don’t think you are playing in the IPL. If you think a lot, the mind will start playing tricks’.”

Reaching the heights of the IPL hasn’t been such a straightforward journey for Lalit. By the time he had reached the highly competitive level of Delhi’s under-16 set-up, plenty of sacrifices had been made.

“My brother and I started playing together [in 2009]” Lalit says about his earliest days in the game. “Both of us used to play at home and break windows. That’s why our father decided to enrol us for a summer camp in a small academy – GM cricket – close to our house.”

Soon after, the family had to make a big call. The steep expenses of shaping a serious career in cricket weren’t easy to get by.

“Seven to eight months later, our family could afford only one of us [due to] the expenses: fees, kit, shoes, dresses. They chose me, I don’t know why. Even today, I don’t know why! My brother continued to study, and I kept playing. In the middle, there used to be a lot of financial difficulties, but they sacrificed everything and continued to support me.”

Lalit was willing to transform himself in every way to cut through the competition. A wicketkeeper-batsman at the under-14 level, he realised he might not go far with the gloves on.

“I wasn’t really good [at keeping]. Every game, I would somehow miss one or two dismissals. As a wicketkeeper, I never received the Player of the Match award. I used to keep wondering when I’d win it, because the club I used to play in, I would bat low (No.6-7). There weren’t many opportunities to win Player of the Match in wicketkeeping.

“One day, I thought, ‘No, now I don’t want to keep’. Then I started bowling, and I remember I won the POTM in the first game itself.”

Now, loopy off-breaks form one half of Lalit’s cricket. In the IPL this year he dismissed Eoin Morgan and Sunil Narine in one over and ended with a season bowling average of 22 and economy of six. “I’d love to bowl to AB de Villiers someday,” he says.

Batting is his forte, and he dreams to, one day, finish matches like MS Dhoni. “India is unlikely to ever get a matchwinner like him. The way he has finished matches; I, too, used to visualise that I’ll be able to finish matches like him.”

In a young career, Lalit has already experienced ups and downs but is propelled by the desire to make a name for himself and his family. “My goal is to give them everything back that they sacrificed for me.”

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