Initially, it’s difficult to believe that Avesh Khan doesn’t have a fast-bowling role model. It’s a craft you don’t take up just like that. You have to have someone who inspired you to become like him: a wild, charging beast that has batmen quaking in their shoes. But he says it with such conviction that you are left convinced. “I never thought I want this bowler’s aggression or that bowler’s speed. I always wanted to carve my own niche,” he told The Indian Express on the eve of India’s second match against New Zealand in Group D.
And he is looking on his way to become a one-of-a-kind Indian quick. Typically, the country produces swing bowlers who struggle to touch 130 kph, with an odd pacer thrown in between who can cross 140-145 but sprays it all over. And then after an injury or two, he too – fast enough – becomes medium, while still spraying it all over.
The six-foot-two Avesh, on the other hand, can bowl fast for his age and with plenty of control, variations and match awareness. He has a mature head on his shoulders. While there are many a slip between the cup and the lip, you can’t help but get ahead of yourself and think what can he achieve if he stays fit. For he has in his arsenal an array of deadly weapons. And he unleashed all his wrath on New Zealand, blowing them away with a new-ball spell that, at one stage, read: 5.2-3-5-4. Avesh was unerring in his off-stump line, choking the run supply and making the batsmen poke at the ball, and also claimed two wickets with his effective bouncers.
It pretty much ended any shred of optimism New Zealand might have had of chasing the 259-run target. Left-arm spinner Mahipal Lomror, who had earlier contributed with the bat as well, then put the boot in with a five-wicket haul as India qualified for the quarterfinals with a 120-run victory.
In the next match, they play Nepal, who thrashed Ireland by eight wickets to make the final eight. That match will basically decide who will be India’s opponent in the knockouts: hosts Bangladesh or defending champions South Africa.
“Our first aim to make the quarterfinals has been realised, but we cannot afford to relax,” said India captain Ishan Kishan after the match. “We need to top the group, so the match against Nepal will be very important. I am confident because the batsmen are in form and the bowlers too are doing well. It is good that the seamers and spinners have got used to conditions here.”
While indeed it is true the bowlers are on top of their game, the batting still remains a bit unconvincing. Sent in after New Zealand won the toss, Ishan played a loose shot throwing the bat at a widish ball that was gobbled up by the fielder at point. He made only four runs to follow up his duck in the first match. Soon former captain Ricky Bhui, who looked good against Ireland, joined his successor in the dressing room, having edged Zak Gibson to second slip.
At 19/2 India were in trouble for the second time in as many matches. And again Sarfaraz Khan dug them out of this hole, with some help from Rishabh Pant.
It has been a fulfilling season for Pant so far, having made his Ranji debut for Delhi in October. Delhi is at once the most easy and the most difficult team to get in. You need to be really gifted or very well connected to make the grade. Pant wasn’t well connected. He is an outsider. He hails from Roorkee in Uttarakhand, and it was about seven years ago that his parents brought him to Tarak Sinha in Delhi, and the veteran coach took a shine to the boy.
“What I liked was his ball sense,” Sinha, who has mentored many a Delhi and India players, told The Indian Express. When he was invited to be the Rajasthan Cricket Academy’s (RCA) director, Pant tagged along and played under-14 cricket from Barmer. When Sinha came back after a couple of years, Pant returned, too, and began to score heavily in the Delhi club cricket scene. Observers spoke of this talented kid who would, to use an oft-used-but-difficult-to-translate Delhi phrase, khade-khade score sau-dedh sau runs (100-150).
With a couple of senior players moving on or nudged out, Pant sneaked into the Ranji squad. Captain Gautam Gambhir showed faith in him and handed him a cap against Bengal. There was a mild buzz at the Feroz Shah Kotla on the day he was to bat – which in itself is a huge deal for a place so full of cynicism. A handful of people flocked to the stadium especially to watch this new kid on the block. He scored 28 in the first innings and 57 in the second, hitting massive sixes of Pragyan Ojha.
“Since I played Ranji before India Under 19, so there was confidence. You see and play with big names. They back you, so it feels good,” Pant said. “When I played with him, one of the things that Shikhar bhaiyya (Dhawan) told me was to take my time. ‘There is no hurry. After this two new ball rule, it’s a bit difficult for the openers. So you have to see the ball (shine) off. Because it seams from both ends. So if you have made 40-45 runs in the powerplay, it’s good.’”
He started with a few delectable boundaries early on, but when the two wickets fell, Pant chose exercise restraint. There were release shots in between, like when he danced down the track to off-spinner Aniket Parikh and hoisted him for a six over long off, before driving him through covers next ball.
But largely, his 82-ball 57 was was an innings where he contained himself. He added 89 runs for the second wicket with Sarfaraz, who was also cautious to begin with. After Pant’s departure, caught at short third man, the Mumbai lad was joined by city and schoolmate Arman Jaffer. It was confluence of two very different style. Trying to up the run rate, Sarfaraz had begun to hustle the ball, using reverse sweeps, slogs and uppercuts, while Jaffer played gently, mostly using soft hands and wrists to find gaps. The duo had added 48 runs when Sarfaraz fell, at 74 again, inside-edging the ball on to his stumps. It’s the third time in Under 19 WC that he has gotten out on this score. Jaffer (46) and Lomror (45) then set India on course for a 250 plus total.
Then Avesh Khan made it look like 400 with devastating spell of fast bowling.
Brief Scores: India U-19 258 for 8 in 50 ovs (Sarfaraz Khan 74, Rishab Pant 57, Armaan Jaffer 46, Mahipal Lomror 45; Zak Gibson 3/50) bt New Zealand U-19 138 all out in 31.3 ovs (Christian Leopard 40, Finn Allen 29, Aniket Parokh 26; Avesh Khan 4/32, Mahipal Lomror 5/47) by 120 runs.