Kamlesh Nagarkoti has waited nearly two years for his coach Surendra Singh Rathod to buy him an iPhone. But to no avail. He’s passed every test that Rathod has posed to him for the phone over that period though. Nagarkoti was first asked to make it to the India Under-19 team, which he did. No iPhone. He was then told to do well in the junior Challenger Trophy, which he did. Still, no iPhone. Selection to the senior Rajasthan team for the Vijay Hazare Trophy was next on the list, which Nagarkoti ticked in bold, finishing as the highest wicket-taker for his state. The iPhone still remained elusive.
It wasn’t just a teenage indulgence that the 17-year-old needed fulfilling. He’d had his current phone for nearly two years and it’d become a very millennial issue in the dressing-room. All his other teammates already were proud owners of iPhones by the way.
“Whenever I would take my phone out, my teammates would taunt me saying ‘bhai phone toh change kar le yaar..Do saal ho gaye, yeh hi dekh raha hoon.. Ab kitni gareebi dikhayega…Itna toh nahi hai..’” he had said. It wasn’t even the latest model that he was after considering “arey iPhone 10 with 256 GB costs 1 lakh 2 thousand” and Nagarkoti was ready to settle even for an iPhone 7.
It’s a childish lament that sounds rather ironic now. When we’d met Nagarkoti back in November, he hadn’t even officially fulfilled his coach’s final iPhone test of getting into the World Cup squad — it’s not like he wouldn’t have. But after Saturday, Nagarkoti can, if he chooses, not only buy hundreds of iPhones, the latest model with 256 GB memory, the youngster could even gift one to his long-standing mentor.
The Rajasthan all-rounder, after all, is now worth Rs 3.8 crore, the amount for which he was bought by Kolkata Knight Riders — the costliest among those playing the Under-19 World Cup — at the 2018 IPL auction in Bangalore.
The gargantuan pay cheque also means that Nagarkoti can finally buy that house in Jaipur he’s always wanted to for his parents — a retired honorary lieutenant who earns Rs 33,000 as his monthly pension and a housewife — and also stop worrying about splurging a little while shopping for his didi while on foreign tours.
The wiry right-arm pacer, who consistently touches speeds in excess of 140 kph with the ball and gives it a good whack with the bat, was expected to be in high demand even before the eight team representatives congregated in the auction room on Saturday. And understandably so.
Nagarkoti, who has seven U19 World Cup wickets at 14.14 so far, has been the most talked-about teenager in New Zealand over the last two weeks, with everyone from Ian Bishop to Sourav Ganguly raving about his raw pace, athleticism and attitude. He’s also been one of the vital factors in why India have cruised into the semifinal stage, where they face Pakistan on Tuesday. The IPL bidding war was but inevitable.
Nagarkoti already had a reputation for being quick at the time he sat down for the interview during the Challenger Trophy. He and Shivam Mavi — his pace partner and regular roommate — consistently had been quicker than their English counterparts both home and away last year. In fact, it was Nagarkoti’s calling card from the very beginning when his family moved to Jaipur and he met coach Rathod at the Sanskar Cricket Academy alongside his elder brother.
His life had prior to that followed a very typical Army kid path. He was always on the move. Born in Uttarakhand, he spent some of his childhood in Bageshwar near Almora before moving to Barmer in Rajasthan and finally settling in Jaipur. His father played basketball, hockey and every other sport but cricket. The Nagarkoti brothers though were drawn to cricket from a young age.
The speed-guns in New Zealand have been clocking Nagarkoti consistently at nearly 150 kph, which is unheard of at the under-19 level.
Compared to his pace colleagues, Ishan Porel and Mavi, Nagarkoti possess a wiry frame, and while his run-up is rhythmic and measured, most of the pace is generated by a whippy release with the wrist position so perfect that it got Bishop to claim on commentary that he “salivates with these things”. Like with most other facets of his nascent career, the youngster attributes his impressive bowling action to coach Rathod.
“Initially it was slightly different. The radar wasn’t great. So sir studied my action and found out that my head was falling too much and therefore affect-ng the wrist position as well, the wrist was dropping as well. He fixed it,” Nagarkoti had said.
That excellent wrist position has also allowed him to develop a skill that most Indian fast bowlers — save Zaheer Khan — take years to get their head around. Long before he turned 17, Nagarkoti was clean-bowling batsmen with reverse-swinging yorkers and even coercing his teammates to help him with the tactful art of “maintaining” the ball.
“Nobody ever taught me that. My wrist being straight at the point of release makes the reverse swing even more effective, and with the old ball, jo mein chahta hoon woh hota hai,” he’d said while revealing how he’s gotten over his early struggles with controlling the new-ball in recent times thanks to help from junior bowling coach Paras Mhambrey. The pace though has always been natural.
“In the academy matches, I have hit batsmen. There was a lot of talk always about my pace. And it helps because you know the batsman is already playing you differently in his head. Then I would bowl bouncers and aur bhi darr ke khelte the. I enjoy that a lot,” he’d said with a disclaimer for every batsmen who’ll face him from here on, “If I’m angry, I tend to bowl quicker and better.”
It’s not surprising that he would have gone to Rathod for the phone when he wanted it. He refers to him as family now and understandably so. It was Rathod who pulled Nagarkoti out of the Army School he was attending because there was no cricket there and brought him to Sanskar Academy. There he even convinced the principal to reduce the school fee for the talented cricketer since his family couldn’t afford it. Rathod was also there for the teenager during the one difficult phase, when runs and wickets weren’t coming Nagarkoti’s way during the Under-16 days.
The Academy was far and back then he would cycle for 16 km a day to go from home to school and then back. These days most of his time during the off-season is spent with coach Rathod. It also helps that his brother is an understudy there and takes care of the young boys who show up for training.
As his stocks rise, literally, his parents too are getting used to seeing their son on TV. And he spoke about how his father got emotional and started crying after watching a television interview of his post the England tour. Meanwhile his mother, whom he calls his biggest supporter, only has one word of advice. “Tu concentrate karna accha. Seeing you play for India is our dream and we want you to fulfil it.” The only bit that bothers her a little is when the boy sticks to the strict diet provided by the team trainer and avoids the Rajasthani sweets that he was previously so fond of.
The massive price-tag will bring with it a lot of pressure and expectation. Nagarkoti will not just be an Under-19 cricketer thrown into the deep end when the IPL starts in April. But it won’t be his first time of dealing with that expectation in the midst of players much older than him. His starry performance in the Vijay Hazare trophy last year included a hat-trick and 56 in the same match against Gujarat. His victims were all bowled by reverse-swinging yorkers, and his hat-trick victim was Jasprit Bumrah, bowled behind his legs.
Over time he has found his own ways of calming the nerves — even though he has the poker-face of someone who doesn’t seem to be too flustered ever. Of late, it’s been listening to the same song — ‘Bhar do jholi meri’ from Bajrangi Bhaijaan — while he’s traveling in the bus to any match.
“I listen to it on repeat and it gets me really motivated,” he’d said.
The rise of Nagarkoti has been as rapid as most of his deliveries, and the IPL auction bid was just the tipping point. And with the quest for the elusive iPhone now likely to have been sorted, there’s one aspect of his cricket he’s desperate to work on.
“I’ve always wanted to celebrate my wicket like Cristiano Ronaldo, of whom I’m a great fan, does with his goals. But I always end up doing the same jumping up in the air move and get annoyed later.”