Not allowed to bowl fast for five years, Raj Angad Bawa takes 5/31 in U19 World Cup final

Back in 2000, when Mohammad Kaif-led India won the U-19 World Cup, Sukhwinder Bawa was the toast of every cricket journalist. His ward Yuvraj Singh was Player of the Tournament, and everyone wanted a piece of the coach who had trained the to-be superstar.

Cut to the present, two decades later, his phone is again buzzing, and the inboxes are full, but Bawa is not overwhelmed. He says, “I am having deja vu. I have seen it before.

“Back then, it was an adrenaline rush. Abhi aisa lag raha ki yaar ye sab dekh chuka hun (Now I feel like I have seen all these things before). Yes, I am a bit emotional because Raj is my son,” says Bawa with a heavy voice.

Sukhwinder Bawa’s son Raj Angad Bawa has not put a foot wrong in the 2022 U-19 World Cup. He bagged a four-wicket haul against South Africa in the first match and followed it with 42 against Ireland. With his 108-ball unbeaten 162 – including 14 fours and eight sixes – against Uganda, he surpassed Shikhar Dhawan’s 155 against Scotland in 2004 as the highest score by an Indian at an U-19 World Cup.

It seems like he saved his best for the final against England. He was the destroyer-in-chief for India with fiery figures of 5 for 31 as he ran through England’s middle order; it was the best bowling performance ever in an U-19 World CUp final.

What impressed Bawa the most was the dismissal of George Bell. A well-directed bouncer first ball, right up near the grille; Bell was taken aback by the snorter, and Dinesh Bana did the rest behind the wicket.

“He can’t do anything wrong today, can he,” says Sukhwinder Bawa. “That dismissal will make any fast bowler proud. I am sure Bell was not expecting a bouncer the first ball he was facing. It was well executed.”

The story of all-rounder Raj Angad Bawa is fascinating as his father had banned him from bowling quick for at least five years.

Growing up, Raj Angad Bawa was a middle-order batter who used to bowl off-spin. Sukhwinder was more focused on his son’s batting.

“Fast bowling to uske DNA mey hai (Fast bowling is in his DNA). He picked up a five-wicket haul in an U-12 match in Gurgaon. That was the moment I told him you should focus on your batting more,” Sukhwinder tells The Indian Express.

The reason behind Sukhwinder’s insistence was that he never wanted his son to be a tailender. “I wanted him to become a proper batter, not some fast bowler who can’t even face 10 balls. I worked on his batting and never allowed him to bowl pace for almost five years.”

The love for fast bowling reignited when Raj was selected for the Punjab U-16 team for the Vijay Merchant Trophy. There was a strict instruction from Sukhwinder that he must focus on his batting, but the teenager would bowl at the nets, and request everyone to keep it a secret.

“I knew it the first day he started bowling again. Baap hun uska (I am his father). I didn’t say a word because he was scoring runs,” says Sukhwinder.

Sukhwinder Bawa, a student of the late coach DP Azad, is known for his discipline among his trainees. Arslan Khan, one of Sukhwinder’s trainees, recounts the time he and Raj shared in Gurgaon.

“Bawa sir never tolerates indiscipline, be it me or Raj. He hates when someone turns up late for training. He will always tell us if you can’t respect the game, stop playing it. At home, he was a father for all of us, would cook food, take care of our diets, help us with our muscle cramps, but on the ground, he is strict,” says Arslan.

“I used to stay with Bawa sir in Gurgaon. Raj and I used to share the same room; there used to be the same schedule for both of us. Those five years in Gurgaon, training seven days a week at Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Gurgaon, shaped our career,” says the 22-year old southpaw who plays for Chandigarh.

When Raj played that breathtaking knock against Uganda, Arslan was not surprised. “He always used to score big runs. We have an age difference of three years, so we were in different age groups. But I have seen him scoring heaps of runs. He would return from every match, and his favourite phrase was ‘bhaiya aaj phod ke aaya hun (I have killed it today.) I was not surprised, when he scored that century against Uganda, you will see more big scores from him in the future,” says Khan, who has scored a double century on his Ranji Trophy debut against Arunachal Pradesh in December 2019.

Sukhwinder played hockey for the Haryana junior team and was even selected for the India U-19 camp in 1988. His dream of playing cricket, however, ended due to a slipped disc injury, and at the age of 22, he became a coach.

“When I completed my diploma from SAI Centre Gandhinagar, I was very young. I always dreamt of producing a genuine all-rounder who can bowl at a deceptive pace and is a solid batter. Maybe because growing up, I have seen the likes of Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Richard Hadlee. What a rivalry it used to be among them!” says Sukhwinder Bawa.

His dream to develop a proper all-rounder came to be fulfilled in his son’s growth.

“Raj was with me 24×7. He used to accompany me everywhere. We’ve always talked cricket, and I used to tell him stories about Kapil paaji. I think he sensed at a very young age what I was looking for,” says Sukhwinder Bawa.

“When I saw his bowling, I knew he was a natural pacer. So I concentrated all my efforts on his batting. I am glad it has worked. He is a complete all-rounder, not even a 60-40.”

When asked why he never allowed him to bowl quick for almost five years, Sukhwinder Bawa replies, “You can work on someone’s technique till they are 16; after that, it is all mental. I have been able to groom him technically. But I’ve worked very little on his bowling. The only thing I have worked upon is his landing knee because it used to bend a lot, and it was injury-prone. That’s a little tweak I did with his bowling action.”

Raj bowls with his right arm but is a left-hand batter. He switched his batting stance after watching Yuvraj Singh.

“I used to watch Yuvraj practise at my father’s coaching centre. When I first picked up the bat maybe I was trying to imitate him, and it stuck with me,” says Raj, who idolises Yuvraj, and dons the same jersey number 12.

Sport runs in the family. Raj’s grandfather, Tarlochan Singh Bawa, was a member of the Indian hockey team that won the 1948 London Olympics gold. Tarlochan scored two goals in the Olympics, one in the 4-0 win over Great Britain in the final, earning independent India its first gold medal.

Sukhwinder has only one piece of advice for his son, which is to “stay humble and keep working hard.” The talented youngster wants to play all three formats for India.

“Mujhe India khelna hai, aur saare formats khelna hai (I want to play for India, and in all three formats). But my real struggle will start once i return from the U-19 World Cup. I will have to establish myself in first-class cricket. As my father always says, believe in the process, and keep working hard,” Bawa had told this paper on the eve of India’s summit clash.

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