Coach Sanjay Bhardwaj woke up early and turned on the television to watch his ward Manjot Kalra open the innings for India in the U-19 World Cup fixture against Australia on Sunday. In the second over of the match, Kalra, facing his first delivery, drove fast bowler Jason Ralston straight back for his first runs of the tournament. The stroke was a pleasing sight for Bhardwaj. Kalra’s strength, according to the coach, is playing close to the body. In New Zealand, where fast bowlers get assistance, such a technique is an asset.
“Bahut paas khelta hai (he plays close to the body)…that’s what makes him a very compact player. He is happy to wait for the ball to come to him and is rock solid. He plays deliveries right under his nose. He has not changed his game. There was no pressure on him during the game against Australia. He was batting the same way he would in a club match or a match for DDCA,” Bhardwaj says.
Kalra’s opening partner Prithvi Shaw fell short of a hundred after the pair stitched a record 180-run partnership. Kalra, a left-hander, too missed the 100-run mark by 14 runs. Looking to flick Param Uppal over the 30-yard circle, Kalra didn’t get the desired elevation and a well-timed catch by Jason Sangha ended his fluent stay in the middle.
“I am not happy. He was playing so well and then suddenly took it easy when he shouldn’t have. There were overs left and he had the chance to make a big score,” Bhardwaj says.
While Shaw has become a household name with his exploits in First-Class cricket – five hundreds, including three this season – to many outside the Capital’s cricketing circles, Kalra would have been unheard of.
However, the youngster has made rapid strides over the last two years. He was the second-highest run-getter for Delhi U-19 in the Cooch Behar Trophy 2016-17, was part of the India U-19 side which toured England, where he smashed a hundred in a four-day ‘Test’.
The century at Chesterfield in July last year convinced Bhardwaj that he had invested in the right kind of cricketing stock.
“The manner in which he scored runs abroad makes him a very good player. That hundred against England in England was special because very few players have managed to do well abroad. He doesn’t chase deliveries and has loads of patience. Not playing away from the body helped him in England and the back-foot play will come handy in New Zealand where there is good bounce,” Bhardwaj says. However, it has not all been smooth sailing for Kalra. The youngster had been embroiled in allegations of age fraud. It was only after producing the relevant documents that he was retained in Delhi’s Under-19 team during the 2016-17 season.
“Manjot was worried at one stage. But I told him to focus on his cricket and let the bat do the talking. It is natural for a youngster to get affected by this. But he took it really well and remained calm and kept scoring runs,” the coach says. Come Tuesday, Bhardwaj will again wake up early and switch on the television with hope that Kalra will fulfil his potential.
Brief scores: India U-19: 328 for 7 (Shaw 94, Kalra 86, Gill 63, Edwards 4-65) beat Australia U-19 228 all out (Edwards 73, Nagarkoti 3-29, Mavi 3-45) by 100 runs