AT 18, Kamlesh Nagarkoti already has a number of fan pages on Facebook dedicated to his bowling speed. One of those, in fact, even lists his quickest deliveries at the under-19 level — all over 140 kph — including video links for each of them.
Ishan Porel, 19, can boast of most of the senior members in the Bengal Ranji dressing-room being his admirers, including skipper Manoj Tiwary. He has even received a compliment about his pace from former Pakistan tearaway Waqar Younis. Shivam Mavi and Arshdeep Singh, too, have hit and crossed the 140 kph mark. When India start their ICC Under-19 World Cup campaign against Australia on Sunday at the Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand, the focus will be on their four-pronged pace attack and not squarely on their batsmen — despite the team being led by Prithvi Shaw — or spinners, as is the case traditionally. It will, perhaps, also be for the first-time ever that India will be going into the junior world event with unprecedented hype around their fast-bowling department.
This is not to say that, in the previous editions, India haven’t discovered talented fast bowlers who have then gone on to play for the country. But never have they left these shores with a more vaunted pace line-up.
While coach Rahul Dravid raved about his pacers before departing for his second World Cup in-charge, Sarfaraz Khan, who was part of the teams for the last two editions in 2014 and 2016, admitted that he’s never seen a more potent Indian U-19 pace attack. Sarfaraz faced Nagarkoti & Co during the pre-tournament camp in Bangalore last month and spoke about how he expected them to exploit the favourable bowling conditions in New Zealand and be the ones leading India’s charge towards a fourth title.
“I have played in two junior World Cups and I can say that this is the best Indian fast bowling attack I have faced. They have the pace to trouble batsmen at the Under-19 World Cup,” Sarfaraz says.
Rajasthan’s Nagarkoti and Uttar Pradesh’s Mavi, both around 5’10″ in height, were star performers with the ball during an extremely successful tour of England in July-August last year where the Indian team whitewashed the hosts 5-0 in the one-dayers and 2-0 in the youth Tests. Porel, the tallest of the lot at 6’3″, is also consistently the quickest and has already played three Ranji Trophy matches for Bengal with 13 wickets at 21.38. He also already has that entry on his CV which every genuine pacer takes sheepish pride in: having sent a batsman, Aditya Sarawate, to hospital with a nasty delivery.
“There are a lot of pacers who bowl fast but don’t have the required level of aggression. Ishan has got the mindset, aggression and skill-set of a fast bowler. If you use Ishan as an attacking option, in short spells, he can hit top speed all day,” Bengal Ranji captain Tiwary says. Arshdeep, the only left-armer in the group and nearly as tall as Porel, hasn’t quite come through the ranks. However, he was impressive during the Under-19 Challengers held in Mumbai last month, registering a five-wicket haul in the final.
Though the turbaned Punjab pacer has made a mark more for his ability to swing the new-ball, Arshdeep has a sharp bouncer and has shown the ability to straighten the ball from around the wicket to right-handers.
Nagarkoti counts a delivery he bowled at 143 kph in England as his quickest yet and reckons his average speed to be around “138 kph”. Despite an excellent wrist position and a whippy release that complements a fluid bowling action, he admits to be still learning to control the new-ball.
But Nagarkoti has developed a reputation of being a wicket-taking threat with the old ball. In fact, by 17, he could boast of reverse-swing being his major weapon, thanks to his pace. He displayed it by taking a hat-trick for his team against Gujarat in the Vijay Hazare Trophy (50-over senior domestic tournament) last year. He even managed to be consistently as quick as teammate Nathu Singh, who was considered the fastest in India two years ago.
“There has always been a lot of talk about my pace. It works to my advantage because that means I’m already in the batsman’s head, and I often bowl bouncers early to ensure woh aur bhi darr ke khelega,” he’d told The Indian Express last month.
Mavi came to the fore during England Under-19’s tour of India early last year and impressed former India opener turned coach Lalchand Rajput to such an extent that he even had the teenager bowl to the Afghanistan senior team in the nets.
“Some of the Afghanistan batsmen were surprised by the kind of pace he was generating,” says Rajput, who was then the Afghanistan coach. Mavi’s known to possess a mean yorker and a sharp bouncer with the in-swinger being his stock delivery. Nagarkoti and Mavi also double up as all-rounders, adding muscle to the lower middle-order. According to Bibhash Das who has overseen the rise of Porel, the self-confessed Brett Lee fan was “genetically” built to bowl fast.
“I encouraged him to bowl faster without being too clingy about line and length. Fast bowling is all about pace to start with,” says Das. And each one of the four fast bowlers who’ll ensure that “speed’s up” for their team in New Zealand have no shortage of that pace the coach talks about. The Under-19 World Cup is considered to be an audition for the next generation of world-class cricketers, but never have an Indian team approached this baptism with such fire in their own arsenal.
(with inputs from Vishal Menon and Shamik Chakrabarty)