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Feature

Mohsin Khan nearly lost an arm, but he's back to being Lucknow's enforcer

The year he made his IPL breakthrough, the LSG fast bowler suffered a traumatic injury that he's still recovering from

Nagraj Gollapudi
13-May-2024
Even in the thrill-a-minute world of T20 cricket, there are performances that stop you in your tracks - a shot, a catch, a ball, or an over. Such as the one delivered by Mohsin Khan, the Lucknow Super Giants left-arm strike bowler in May last year, when he successfully defended 11 runs off the final over against Mumbai Indians' Tim David and Cameron Green.
If you watched that over (9:13 onwards), you will understand why 25-year-old Mohsin excites selectors and cricket pundits, who believe he has the potential, skills and mindset to play international T20 cricket.
I brought the over up when I met Mohsin late this March at the Super Giants' team hotel in Lucknow.
"I stepped out [off the field] to splash my face with some water," he says about how he approached the task. "I completely removed the runs element [from my mind] about how many runs I had to defend, because otherwise I could easily get distracted and put myself under pressure if there was even one big shot. I just planned to go ball by ball and bowl each one well."
He needed all the calm he could get, bowling as he was to two batters who can demolish bowlers with extreme prejudice. Mohsin had his plans: against Green he pitched either back of a length, as on the first delivery, which was a dot, or on length, as on the second, which went for a single.
"I usually bowled slower ones majorly back then, which everyone knew about," Mohsin says. "So I decided I'll do something different for the rest of the over: just yorkers. There was this voice which was coming from inside saying, 'Hoga'" [It'll work.]
A yorker is a confidence ball. You can be a Bumrah, a Jofra or a Mohsin; without confidence, a yorker can fail miserably in execution. Mohsin's self-belief in that moment was high. He left third in the ring, a bluff. "Dalta gaya, aur phir ho gaya." [I kept bowling, and it happened.]
It was a cathartic moment for Mohsin. His father had suffered a stroke about ten days before the game and was in hospital. Mohsin dedicated the win to him. "Papa usually gets happy to see me play," he says. "When I called him later after the win, he was unable to speak, he just said 'Beta' [son]. I was happy with just that. My entire performance was for papa. He was the only thing on my mind during the match. I thought he would be watching, so if we won it, it would bring him happiness. He would feel a little better. I think a day or so later he was discharged."

****

Mohsin's family originally comes from Khalilabad in Uttar Pradesh. His father, who works in the UP Police, was transferred to Sambhal, about 700km away, east of New Delhi, where the family lives now. Mohsin lives in Moradabad, about 20km away from Sambhal, because the cricket infrastructure is better there.
At 6'3" Mohsin is tall and well-built. In bowling terms, his biggest strength is a high-arm action and a straight wrist. Despite being able to deliver speeds in excess of 140kph, he has a short run-up, just 11 strides. He says several experts have suggested a longer run-up, for extra speed, but he is not keen on fixing something that is not broken.
His bowling was nearly much worse than broken a couple of years ago, when he almost came to the point of having to have his bowling arm amputated.
After his debut IPL season with Super Giants in 2022, Mohsin went home, where, about a week later, when he went to the ground, he realised he couldn't lift his left arm.
"I didn't have any injury. I had gone home immediately after IPL and was resting," he says.
He drifted in a wave of panic for the next few months, going first to the BCCI's National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, whose medical staff sent him to Mumbai to consult the board's specialist surgeons.
Vaibhav Daga, consultant of sports physiotherapy and medicine at Super Giants, who also heads the sports science and rehab department at the Kokilaben Ambani Hospital in Mumbai, says Mohsin had an extremely rare injury, an aneurysm in the axillary artery in his left shoulder, which was hampering blood supply to his left arm, forearm and hand. "If there was a delay in the diagnosis and surgery, he would have probably lost his limb," Daga says.
Mohsin had his surgery in October 2022, performed by Dr Raghuram Sekhar, a senior vascular surgeon. "His limb was saved, but because the aneurysm was close one of the nerves supplying the muscles of the left arm and forearm below, there was compromise of the nerve supply," says Daga, "which affected the strength in his triceps muscle which helps the shoulder and elbow mechanics while bowling."
A graft needed to be taken from a vein to patch up the arterial wall after the aneurysm was removed. An upper limb nerve surgeon was consulted about treating the compromised nerve supply, and Mohsin had treatment for that, though he was lucky to not have to have more surgery.
The doctors had warned Mohsin he might need close to two years to recover and there was no guarantee he would play again. By December that year, he commenced rehab, working closely with Daga, Nitin Patel and Dhananjay Kaushik (the head of sports science, and the senior physio at the NCA). Though it took a while for the regeneration of the affected nerve, it began to function properly as rehab progressed, and Mohsin gradually got most of the strength in his left arm back, Daga says.
It didn't seem that way immediately after the surgery, though. "When I used to try to lift my arm, it would just fall flat down on its own," Mohsin says. "There was no power in the hand. I thought at one point my cricket career was over because my hand was not working at all. The triceps had no muscle. Now the muscle, as you see, is growing back, but if you compare it with my right arm, the muscle mass was significantly lesser on the left side."
By the time Super Giants started preparation for the 2023 IPL, Mohsin joined the squad, though he was not ready to play. According to Daga, the focus was to build on his running, bowling and throwing workloads and intensity, which all happened gradually.
Eventually, about five weeks into the tournament, Mohsin returned to play for the first time since the 2022 IPL, against champions Gujarat Titans on May 7. He bowled three overs for 42 runs, picking up the wicket of Titans captain Hardik Pandya.
"I was immensely happy," he says. "Despite not playing a single practice match, I had played directly from IPL to IPL. I did not have an open net session [bowling to batters], but my team trusted me based on just two net [bowling] sessions I had prior to that match."
Mohsin's IPL journey began in 2018, when Mumbai Indians bought him at his base price of Rs 20 lakhs (about US$31,000 at the time), impressed by his performance in the 2017-18 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
He did not play for Mumbai, but Mohsin had the privilege of working with former India bowling great Zaheer Khan, who was the team's performance director at the time. For Mohsin, who grew up wanting to be a fast bowler from watching Zaheer on clips and TV, it was a dream come true, and he soaked it all up like a sponge.
Another key mentor was Mohammed Shami, the senior India fast bowler, who is absent from this IPL, recovering from foot surgery. During the Covid-19 period, Mohsin trained with Shami at the latter's facility in Uttar Pradesh. While the majority of the time there was spent focused on fitness, Shami also spoke to Mohsin about the importance of bowling lengths. "He suggested I pitch slightly fuller than the normal short-of-length delivery I bowl, especially against overseas batters, who are good at pulling or clearing the leg-side boundary."
When Mohsin joined Super Giants, former India opener Gautam Gambhir, was the franchise's mentor-cum-head coach. "Gauti bhaiyya motivated me a lot. He said, 'You are the only one who can make the impact. You don't need to look at anyone. Tere haath main ball hain toh tu hi raja' [When the ball is in your hand, you are king.]"
The same kind of belief also came from Super Giants captain KL Rahul. "He is very cool," Mohsin says. "I feel good and safe with his captaincy because even if I go for runs, he never says anything. "Achcha karega" is what he usually says."
In his first two IPL seasons, Mohsin largely bowled two overs in the powerplay, an over in the middle phase, and one at the death. But this season Rahul has used Mohsin more as a go-to bowler. In the match against Rajasthan Royals, he let Mohsin have three overs on the trot, which resulted in the wicket of Yashasvi Jaiswal. "Based on the game's necessity in the situation, Rahul bhai uses me," Mohsin says.
Bowling regularly in high-pressure situations as he does, Mohsin's go-to delivery remains the slower delivery, he says. Harshal Patel, the Punjab Kings seamer who has a number of variations in his armoury, says a bowler needs lots of courage to execute the slower ball, and Mohsin agrees. "There are chances of getting hit, but my confidence is always high with the slower ball. It has given me the majority of my wickets in IPL, because with my pace and bounce, the ball can grip or stop, and that gives me an advantage."
Harshal says he has seen Mohsin evolve over the last three IPL seasons. "That's how I judge new fast bowlers - is he constantly trying to build his repertoire or is he just going with the flow? Until last year I didn't see him bowling yorkers. It was more into-the-pitch and cutters and all that. This season I saw the brilliant yorker with which he got Nehal Wadhera [Mumbai Indians], who was hanging back and not expecting it. The ball snuck under his bat and bowled him."
ESPNcricinfo's data shows that Mohsin bowled two yorkers in the 2022 IPL, three last year, and five so far this season - not enough to draw too many conclusions from, but that last number will likely go up, given LSG have at least two matches to go, and Mohsin is still working his way back up to full fitness.
Former West Indies fast bowler Ian Bishop was impressed by Mohsin's talent when he saw him in the 2022 IPL. "What stood out was his ability at his very best to bowl the hard length," Bishop says, "to get the ball to deviate as well, and to be able to hit that good length.
"I remember a spell, I think it was to Virat Kohli [in the Eliminator], where Mohsin just banged the ball in on a good length with enough movement that it was problematic to get away."
In that year's IPL, in nine matches, Mohsin took seven wickets with the ball banged in back of a length or short, at an economy of just 6.11. His economy rate for balls in those categories spiked to 10.83 in the four matches he played in 2023, when he was fresh off his surgery, and he took two wickets with those deliveries. This season it has been 10.76 with six wickets in eight matches.
Once Mohsin is back to peak fitness, Bishop is looking forward to him getting back to the bowler he was two years ago. "There are times this season when he's been good but in 2022 he was very impressive."
Mohsin was forced to sit out Super Giants' last match, against Sunrirsers Hyderabad last week, as a precaution, having left the field after hitting his head while fielding in the previous game, against Kolkata Knight Riders.
This season has been an expensive one for him. He has predominantly bowled in the powerplay, where in 16 overs in his six games, his economy has been 8.87; he has taken five of his nine wickets so far in the powerplay. But at the death, where he was lethal in his debut season, Mohsin now ranks fourth-worst, in terms of economy, among 21 bowlers who have bowled at least eight overs apiece at the death this season: 12.44 runs per over, with three wickets. If there's any consolation, it is that the bowlers above him on that list are seasoned pros: Bhuvneshwar Kumar (14.30), Sam Curran (12.90) and Arshdeep Singh (12.72).
"I always think, 'Kar loonga' [I'll get it done]. I try and stay positive in such moments," he says. "Just because I am getting hit for runs I shouldn't feel I am in a hopeless situation. Gaye to gaye run. Khel rahe hain toh run padne hi padne hain. Wicket aani hain to aani hain." [If runs are scored, so be it. If a wicket is to come, it will].
In Super Giants' first match this IPL, against Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur, Sanju Samson hit him for a four and a six in his first three balls of the fifth over. On the penultimate delivery of that over, Yashasvi Jaiswal paddled a six over fine leg. Mohsin dug the final ball of the over in hard short of a length, rushing Jaiswal into top-edging a easy catch. "The wicket was good for batting and my bowling was a bit all over the place," Mohsin says. "Then I returned to my strength, which is back of length, and bowled with bit more pace and bounce and he [Jaiswal] was beaten."
Before execution, it is important to understand bowling plans, Mohsin says. "If the mind is clear and you are communicating clearly with the captain and coaches, things become easy. Getting a wicket is different, but at least if you are not deviating from the plan, you will bowl better most times."
His shoulder injury likely cost Mohsin a spot in India's 2022 World Cup squad. The selectors thought his high point of release, ability to hit hard lengths at will, and ability to quickly size a batter up and respond with the right variations would have made him valuable on pitches in Australia, where the tournament was held.
Two years on from his breakthrough IPL, Mohsin doesn't once during our chat mention playing for India. He is fully aware he is still getting back to where he was, in terms of the strength in his left arm. The fear of whether the injury will return each time he feels any pain in that arm or shoulder will take its time fading, Daga says.
"I just want to play well," Mohsin says about playing for India. "Wherever I play, I just ensure that I do my best for the team. Where I am at the moment, I am just thinking about that. I am doing what is in my hands," he says. He looks up. "Baaki, Allah ki meherbaani hain - kahan tak khelna, kya karna hain." [The rest is in the hands of the almighty, what level I get to, what I do, and all that.]
Stats inputs by S Rajesh

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo

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