The 35th over of the Australian chase in their Under-19 World Cup match against India on Sunday (January 14) threw up a sequence that would have excited Indian fans no end.
For, it’s not often that an Indian bowler leaves an Australian batsman absolutely clueless through sheer pace. That was the situation Austin Waugh found himself in against Kamlesh Nagarkoti, the 18-year-old quick from Rajasthan.
Returning for a second spell, Nagarkoti began with two short balls that whizzed past Waugh’s blade. A full ball followed, after which two more 145 kmph thunderbolts sped past the batsman. Steve Waugh’s son was finally put out of his misery – dad was very much in attendance – when he nicked the last ball to the wicketkeeper.
This, after a first spell where Nagarkoti had already clocked close to 147 kmph, according to the speed gun being used by the broadcasters.
Anyone who doesn’t know what Nagarkoti does on the cricket field could easily mistake him for a batsman, based on build. He is lean, and only around five feet and eight inches tall. He fields at point – a rarity for an Indian pacer – and swoops in swiftly to cut singles. Nothing about his physique suggests he can hurl the ball consistently above 140 kmph.
“In England in a televised game, someone told me it was 143kmph. Today, I was told it’s 149,” he gushed after his three wickets helped India beat Australia by 100 runs.
“A bit of my pace is natural but I’ve also worked on it. I didn’t think of speed initially, just worked on my action. I just wanted to remain accurate, focus on my line and length. Paras Mhambrey (the U-19 bowling coach) tells me to focus on accuracy. There is a tendency to spray the ball if you have pace. That’s what I’ve worked on.”
The accuracy of the speed guns vary with each broadcaster and their reliability is open to debate, but there’s no doubt that Nagarkoti is very quick for this level. It is this deceptive pace that, after all, got him into, and helped him pursue, the game in his early days.
Nagarkoti’s raw ability was first spotted by his brother, who got him enrolled in an academy under Surendra Singh Rathore. Nagarkoti’s cricket even halted his family’s plans of shifting back to their village in Uttarakhand.
He gradually rose through the ranks, making a name for himself as a medium pacer and a handy batsman. It earned him a stint at the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai, where he learnt new tricks.
It’s perhaps not a big factor in New Zealand, particularly with two new balls, but one of Nagarkoti’s main weapons is reverse swing. A large proportion of his dismissals are either bowled or lbw; he shot to limelight with a hat-trick against Gujarat in just his second List A match, all three dismissals being bowled.
That’s no surprise, given who he idolises.
“I’ve seen Waqar Younis, the way he used to reverse the ball,” he said. “Any bowler who has pace can get the ball to reverse. I’ve been working on that too.”
Incredibly for India, they had another pacer who nearly matched Nagarkoti for pace; Shivam Mavi bowled at above 140 clicks, with the fastest being 144.5 kmph. The delivery that sent Jonathan Merlo’s off-stump cartwheeling was yet another highlight of the Indian bowling performance.
“It was a bit of a surprise. We thought spin definitely would be their strength,” said Jack Edwards, who top-scored with 73 for Australia. “They were pretty sharp, I didn’t realise it was 145 until one of the boys told me. I guess they bowled not only quick but also accurate, they were pretty tough to get away. It was a good experience facing someone that quick.”
The deceptive pace clearly surprised, and rattled, Australia’s batsmen. But this wasn’t the first time the Nagarkoti-Mavi duo is hunting as a pair. They starred for India in the Youth ‘Tests’ in England last year. They picked 16 wickets between them in the first game to destroy England, Nagarkoti going on to become the leading wicket-taker with 14 wickets at 15.14 from two games.
The pair also shared 13 wickets in five games in the Under-19 ODI series when England toured India earlier in 2017.
People who have seen them from close quarters believe this could be an association that would take greater shape in the years to come.
“Definitely we will see more of him in the future, as we will see the other fast bowler, Shivam Mavi. Nagarkoti can be quick, he does extract a fair bit of bounce and he has got real good fitness levels,” WV Raman, who had stepped in for Rahul Dravid as coach during the England tour, had told Wisden India.
“And he is very athletic. All in all, he is a good package. He can also bat a little bit, he can go on to become an allrounder if he does pay a little bit of attention to his batting, and he is a fabulous fielder. Over the next 2-3 years, if his path is not hindered by things not in his control, I think he should be there in another three years’ time.”
For now, India will be hoping Nagarkoti – and Mavi – can repeat Sunday’s performance over the next three weeks.