As the India Under-19 team walks back to the bus after the practice session, you seek Mayank Dagar out through your camera lens. The kit-bag in one hand and a half-eaten apple in the other, Dagar approaches the practice ground exit unhurriedly. When he sees you, and your camera, he stops chomping on the fruit. He seeks you out, inquires if you have taken snapshot of his, and asks you to mail them. By evening, the picture is uploaded on his instagram profile with the caption: “All set for final”. Four hundred and twenty ‘hearts’ are touched on his followers’ touchscreens.
The Himachal Pradesh left-arm spinner looks like a movie star, and he is conscious of it. “Girls have told me that I look like Varun Dhawan,” he later says, breaking into a photogenic smile. And there is indeed a resemblance between this up-and-coming cricketer and the Bollywood heartthrob.
Having made the India Under-19 team, his female fan following must have increased manifold? He tries to laugh it off. You persist with the question. Is he single or in a relationship? “Single,” he replies. And that means more attention? This time he laughs out loud and opens up. “I do get attention (from the opposite sex). Obviously, you are playing at such level, people are going to approach you. But I am not getting into that stuff right now,” the 19-year-old says.
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In this 15-member squad in which players come from diverse backgrounds, Dagar is the urbane one. A bit like Virat Kohli. Born in Delhi to a Municipal Corporation of Delhi contractor, he has attended what he calls “India’s best boarding school” in Shimla, Bishop Cotton School. He prefers to talk in English, reads novels, and maintains a diary. A bit like Unmukt Chand. But unlike Chand, he doesn’t intend to publish the diary.
But Dagar is more than just appearances. He has performed well, too. One of the two specialist spinners in the squad, he sat out the first two matches as India played the leggie Zeeshan Ansari. Ansari is 16 and has one more World Cup in him. But Dagar is 19. He had this one chance. What was going on in his mind when he was warming the bench?
“Kuchh nahi chal raha tha (in my mind), bas ye ke it’s India under-19 team, so obviously all players in this team are good. So, it’s all about chance actually. So I was just waiting for my chance, and I got it against Nepal. I just went and enjoyed my bowling. That’s it,” he says.
Coming off the bench, Dagar made an instant impact. He got the ball to turn and bounce a good deal and took two wickets against Nepal. He has a nice, high-arm action, and uses his height to trouble the batsmen. In the next two matches he picked up six more wickets to justify his selection.
“Mayank has always done well, he has always done the role and picked the wickets. We want him to bowl up front, he does that,” coach Paras Mhambrey says. He even says that Dagar picking up Kamindu Mendis’s wicket with a tossed up delivery in the semifinal against Sri Lanka was one of his favourite moments in this World Cup.
The left-arm spinner is also a handy batsman down the order. He had hardly got any chance to bat before the semifinal, but showed that he can really belt the ball. “It’s a limited-overs game. Batting is also important. I am seeing myself, and even my team is seeing me, as an all-rounder,” he says.
In bowling he follows Daniel Vettori. In batting, his idol is Virender Sehwag. Dagar took up cricket primarily because of Sehwag. The former India opener is his maternal uncle. “He is my maama. My mom’s cousin. When I go to Delhi, I interact with him. So it helps. I know that he too played the Under-19 World Cup in 1998. I still have his picture, in the Indian team blazer, from that World Cup,” says Dagar. “We spoke before I came here. He said just play your natural game, and try and implement what you have learnt.”
Dagar hopes to do that in the final. “Wahan pe apne aapko ko show karna hai, dikhana hai ke what I can do for my team. World Cup jeetna hi important hai, wohi main aim hai.”
After that, he will go back and resume his Class XII studies.
“Education is important. It will broaden your mind. I am going to have to manage my cricket and studies. I am looking forward to doing English honours. I would like to read Shakespeare in graduation.”