In Raj Bawa, India could have finally discovered a white-ball pace all-rounder

Around the 13th over mark, the Indian voices became louder on the field. Kaushal Tambe from first slip was the ‘chirp-leader’, with captain Yash Dhull giving him good company.

The England colts were already intimidated, thanks to Raj Bawa and his delivery that dismissed George Bell for a golden duck. It reared off a length, angled in towards the grille and got Bell bounced out, who gloved it to wicket-keeper Dinesh Bana.

Bawa had accounted for William Luxton in his previous delivery, extra bounce getting the better of an attempted square cut. But it was the bouncer to Bell that tilted the balance of the World Cup final in India U-19’s favour, psychologically. Going ahead, England U-19 batting, save James Rew and James Sales to some extent, would succumb to the fear factor.

Bawa welcomed Rehan Ahmed with chin music, the latter going for an attempted pull and taking a blow on the helmet. So, an over later, when the 19-year-old bowled fuller to Ahmed, in the fourth stump channel, the batsman’s feet barely moved. Tambe had a simple catch at slip. Bawa’s spell read: 7-1-19-4. He returned with 5/31 from 9.5 overs. Another grille-crusher to Alex Horton was further embellishment.

Bawa’s first wicket was George Thomas, falling prey to an agricultural swipe. After 19 overs, England U-19 were 67/6, batting first. Their Indian counterparts were sniffing the Cup.

Spare a thought for Ravi Kumar, the left-arm seamer who came back from a back injury earlier this season. Kumar’s action gives him a natural inswing. And in the final, he beautifully used the seam also.

After the morning rain, the sun peeped out. But a steep breeze was blowing across the ground. Kumar bowled into the wind, which increased his degree of difficulty. He countered that by bowling an excellent length and moving the ball late. Opener Jacob Bethell was snaffled by an inswinger, the ball holding a beautiful seam position and straightening after pitching. Bethell was plumb.

Thomas responded to the early blow through a couple of fours and a six against Rajvardhan Hangargekar, but Kumar removed England U-19 captain Tom Prest in his next over with a shortish delivery that sat up a bit. Prest was played-on and his team was in trouble.

Dhull didn’t change Kumar’s end – at this level, bowlers seldom insist their captain to act to their advantage. The India U-19 skipper was using Kumar to a plan and the medium pacer was happy with that. The next mini phase of play showed Dhull’s maturity, when he made a double bowling change, bringing on Bawa and Nishant Sindhu. England U-19 weren’t in a position to force the pace and the brief from Dhull to his bowlers was to keep it tight and apply the choke. Just two runs off 17 balls brought about a poor shot from Thomas, as he tried to break the shackles. A reprieve he was given earlier didn’t prove costly.

When Horton tried a cross-batted heave and fell to off-spinner Tambe, England colts were 91/7. The final looked set for an early finish. But England U-19 clawed back, riding on a fine knock from Rew. First, he reverse-swept Tambe to upset his line followed by a slog-sweep to cow corner off Sindhu for another four. Dhull responded by bringing back Hangargekar, but Rew has had the experience of playing the game at a higher level.

Last year, when India toured England, the southpaw played a first-class fixture for County Select XI and faced the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja and other frontline Indian bowlers. Also, the 18-year-old had a good U-19 World Cup, with an average of 40. He offered an excellent rearguard, taking the game deep, in association with Sales. Together, they resurrected England U-19 innings, adding 93 runs for the eighth wicket. Rew wasn’t all deadpan defence at all. He scored off the loose deliveries, a pull to Hangargekar being his best. Making the right manoeuvres and taking consecutive fours off Vicky Ostwal attested the youngster’s intelligence. Eventually, when he fell five short of what would have been a fine century, everyone applauded. It was Kumar’s third wicket, courtesy a smart catch on the rebound by Tambe.

Kumar soon bagged his fourth (4/34) by removing Thomas Aspinwall and England U-19 skittled out for 189. In the grand scheme of things, though, Indian cricket got something more significant from this game. Bereft of a seaming all-rounder for long, Bawa could be the answer to the problem if he makes a seamless transition to the senior level. In the recent past, players like Shubman Gill and Rishabh Pant have done that and Bawa, the grandson of the late Tarlochan Bawa – a member of the Indian hockey team that won the gold at the 1948 London Olympics – apparently has the potential to reach the next level. After the final, his wickets tally reached nine scalps from six games at an average of 16.66. He has scored 217 runs, including a record-breaking century.

Over to VVS Laxman now at the National Cricket Academy, who is working in conjunction with the Indian senior team head coach Rahul Dravid.

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