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India’s baby quicks scorch Windies shores


When it was young pacer Ravi Kumar’s turn to ask the guest motivator Virat Kohli a question ahead of India’s U-19 World Cup final, he dug one nicely short. “I asked him what is his weakness. And he replied, ‘kyun abhi se out karne ki training kar raha hai kya’ (laughs)?” Who better than Kohli to know all about the menace Indian new-age quicks are capable of causing to hopping batters. England were about to find out.

Raj Angad Bawa’s grandfather scored a hockey goal against England in India’s first Olympics after independence. The grandson of the 1948 hero cleaned up England’s top order in the final with a five-for. Ravi Kumar’s father serves in law enforcement back in India, while the son rocked England in the U-19 final with a four-for. Together the teenagers unleashed ferocious bouncers, crafty leg cutters, balls that leapt off a length, deliveries that curved in the air and it was apt that all this happened in the Caribbean, the spiritual home of fast bowlers, the land of Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose.

By the time the duo was done with their opening spells, England were limping at 61 for 6 and if not for a 95 from James Lew, whose first professional scalp as a county player was a lighting-quick stumping to remove Cheteshwar Pujara, it would have been all over rather too quickly. Such was the craft and venom from Bawa and Kumar after England had chosen to bat.

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We might be in 2022 and the Indian senior team’s pace battery is the envy of the world but there is still something about watching a young Indian knock out a batsman with a bouncer. Bawa blasted out the middle-order batsman George Bell with a snorter that is destined to become one of most watched videos over the next couple of days.

Running in with his hands whirling over each other as if he were concocting a magic potion, he harassed England with a spell that had the entire range. Seam, swing, and disconcerting bounce. Bawa’s father Sukhwinder is a cricket coach who honed the skills of Yuvraj Singh and VRV Singh and would have been proud to see his son stun, shock and awe England. An allrounder, he already has the highest individual score in the tournament and has dazzled with his bowling as well.

Couple of years back, George Bell’s father had said that it would be a touch “frightening” if his son came up against pacers like Jofra Archer. He must have got a glimpse of that brutal world when Bawa kicked up a vicious ‘perfume ball’ as the West Indian pacers used to call their bouncers. It flew up at the throat of Bell who put up his bat as a shield; the face was saved, wicket wasn’t as the ball skimmed the outside edge.

It was the left-handed Ravi Kumar who had the first stab at the English with a lovely swinging delivery that curled past the left-handed opener Jacob Bethell to rap him plumb lbw on the back foot. He then had England’s captain Tom Prest chop on an attempted pull on to his stumps to leave England wobbling at 18 for 2 in the fourth over. Bawa then snared four in quick succession to leave England gasping. He had the aggressive George Thomas miscue to covers, William Luxton caught behind before he produced the ball of the final over to take out Bell. The way his team-mates swooped to mob him told a story.

He then produced a peach, kicking up from short of length, to produce a hurried jab from Rehan Ahmed which was snapped up in the slips.

If it wasn’t for the left-handed James Rew, a wicket-keeper batsman for Somerset but playing just as a batsman here. In his first professional game for his county, with his parents and family in the audience, he got out playing a reverse sweep for 20. ‘That’s a shot I play and will continue to play,’ he had said then and it hasn’t been a surprise to see him unfurl many a reverse sweep in this tournament. He has a plucky all-round game, alternating between Neil Fairbrother to Eoin Morgan, and with a combination of doggedness and innovation, he pulled England out of trouble.

Kumar would return to take two more wickets, including Rew, caught at the boundary just 8 short of a hundred, and Bawa grasped the chance to complete a five-for by taking out the last English wicket. Earlier he had quizzed Kohli about nerves in finals. “He told us there is nothing like finals, each game just give your best shot. Express yourself in the ground and just enjoy the game,”

All this was achieved with the poise of experience pros. “The best part was we were not thinking about the future, we were all in the present. We spoke to Virat Kohli bhai and everyone asked him a few questions. Few asked him about handling pressure and performance in big games. Then after that we all saw the 1983 film together, it was a kind of motivation for us to win the finals. We saw how Kapil (Sir) team went to lift title, it was great motivational thing for us,” Ravi said.

Two kids from varying backgrounds, Bawa with hockey and cricket in his blood, and Kumar, with a para-military parent’s background, pushed India to another World Cup triumph.

Watching from the commentary box was the son of someone who set the Caribbean shores alight way back in 1970s. Rohan Gavaskar, there as commentator, though, wasn’t terribly surprised it was the Indian pacers rather than opening bats like Sunil Gavaskar, making heads turn in West Indies. “I think Indian pacers have been best in the world for the last few years. We have been producing some very good fast bowlers lately so I wasn’t that surprised to see another crop of good pacers,” he said.

Unlike storied times when only Indian spin quartets were feared, Gavaskar reckoned it was the pacers who were at the vanguard of action. “I thought one of the strengths of this team was their bowling unit . Everyone knew their role and performed it beautifully. The pacers provided early breakthroughs and the spinners then capitalised on it and made inroads with the middle order. This is why they were able to bowl out teams in the World Cup. Credit to the coaching staff of Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Sairaj Bahutule and VVS,” he said.





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