“He [Tilak ‘Harvey’ Varma] is not playing the bowler, he is playing the ball,” said the skipper Rohit Sharma after Mumbai Indians’ 14-run victory over Sunrisers Hyderabad on Tuesday (April 18).
It sounds like a simple thing but there are other factors that take over to muddle the thinking. The dipping run-rate, the mounting asking-rate, pitch, conditions, match-ups, your partner slowing down. There are infinite ways to mess it up.
Mumbai have a dodgy batting arsenal this season. None of their batters walked into the tournament in top form. To accommodate their new ‘million dollar’ baby Cameron Green, they had to move Tilak down the order, shifting him away from his preferred batting position.
Prior to IPL 2023, Tilak had batted only nine out of his 35 T20 innings at number five.
Tilak, however, has had everything covered. More than that, he is covering up the vulnerabilities of his side. He had a terrific IPL 2022, scoring 397 runs at an average of 36.1 while striking at 131. And at the age of 20, he has shown immunity to the second year syndrome. In his sophomore season, the left-hander has graduated to carry Mumbai’s batting in tough situations.
In their season opener itself, Tilak carried Mumbai from 20/3 from his entry point in the sixth over to a competitive total of 171/7. He remained unbeaten with 84 off 46 balls. The way he weathered the storm before going after the RCB bowlers, attacking both spin and pace with pristine game awareness, was astonishing to watch.
Two games later, he was the aggressor in the second wicket stand with Rohit. When the skipper needed to slow down, Tilak took the charge, contributing 41 off 29 balls in a 68-run partnership.
He did something similar in Hyderabad which was invaluable to Mumbai’s third successive win. Green’s unbeaten 64 off 40 balls took the cake but it may not have been possible without Tilak’s cameo of 37 off 17 balls.
The only local lad in the match, Tilak walked in at five again. Sunrisers Hyderabad were threatening to hit back in the game. They had picked two wickets in five balls and Green (21 off 19 at that point) was struggling at the other end to get the spinners away.
After a slow start (7 off 8 balls), Tilak struck back to back sixes against Marco Jansen to unfurl his first attack. In the next over, he crashed a four and a six against Mayank Markande, the most economical spinner of the season.
Tilak was out in the next over. His 5-over stay bumped Mumbai’s run-rate above 9 and set them up for an above-par total. Much like he did in the partnership with Rohit, Tilak contributed 37 off 17 in a 56-run partnership with Green from 28 balls. Talk about a small role and big impact.
In five outings this season, the southpaw has twice allowed breathing space to his batting partner and has once carried the innings on his shoulders.
Most impressively, he has done that by playing proper cricketing strokes. There have been some gigantic sixes over mid-wicket as well as some captivating strokes down the ground. He has strong numbers against both pace and spin.
As Rohit mentioned, Tilak reacts to the ball rather than pre-meditating a wrong move against the match situation or the bowler.
He is comfortably the highest run-scorer for Mumbai Indians in the season thus far. His tally of 214 runs is 45 runs more than that of the opener Ishan Kishan placed at the second spot. It enunciates his contribution to the side.
Achieving such numbers while adjusting to the role of batting at five enhances Tilak’s season. Scoring tough runs has been his motto.
The last two auctions have clearly reflected that Mumbai is building a team for the future since the mega auction reset in 2022. Tilak has been the only youngster who has clicked consistently thus far.
Although he is young, it is tough to ignore the value he can bring to the national side. At the end of the last season, Rohit resonated the same.
“I feel he’s going to be an all-format player for India pretty soon. He’s got the technique and temperament,” he said after Mumbai’s last game of the previous season.
After all, he is a left-hander who can take on spin during the middle overs with game awareness. It is an ingredient the Indian team has missed for a while in their T20 setup.
During his unbeaten 84 against RCB, Tilak hammered the opposition’s seventh bowling option, Glenn Maxwell, out of the attack with 10 runs off his first two balls. Against Delhi, it was Kuldeep Yadav (16 runs from 8 balls). Against Chennai, it was Mitchell Santner (10 runs off 5 balls). Against Hyderabad, he spoiled Markande’s figures (18 runs off 11 balls).
His first 20 balls strike-rate in the season is 155.8. And the fact that he is only 20 adds immensely to his value.
Tilak dropped hints to the selectors to “remember his name” with a successful debut season in IPL 2022. This year, he is banging on their door.
“Say my name,” he seems to be asking.