Rarely has a team dominated a World Cup like the Indian youngsters have done in New Zealand. They played six, won each of them by eight or more wickets or 100 or more runs and it seemed like they barely broke a bead of sweat en route the title.
The architects of the triumphant tournament were arguably the six most influential players in Rahul Dravid's young side — the top three batsmen and the triumvirate of fast bowlers.
Prithvi Shaw, the skipper, Manjot Kalra and Shubman Gill were all ravishing in their own unique fashion with the bat.
On the other hand, the World raved at India’s three young fast bowlers — Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi and Ishan Porel — who had batsmen befuddled with their pace and bounce.
But perched on top of wicket-taker's chart, with a mind-boggling average, stupendous economy and the best strike rate in the tournament is a left-arm spinner who shone right through the tournament after just making the cut to the squad due to a stress-related ankle injury.
We are talking of the 19-year-old man from Samastipur, Anukul Roy, who idolises Ravindra Jadeja and set the World Cup campaign alight with 14 wickets in 6 matches at an average of 9.07, economy of 3.84 and strike rate of 14.1.
Roy's dreams of making it to New Zealand with the U-19 team nearly crash-landed when an ankle injury forced him to miss the U-19 Challenger Trophy and U-19 Asia Cup late last year.
However, with assurances from Rahul Dravid, Roy came out of rehabilitation and straight into the World Cup squad. Since then, there has been no looking behind. In the first match against Australia, he bowled with good control and rhythm and sent back the set Jack Edwards with an arm ball that would make his role model, Jadeja, proud.
In the next match against Papua New Guinea, he picked up a maiden five-for and followed it up with a four wicket haul against Zimbabwe that was characterized by plenty of loops on the ball. This was particularly impressive given the fact that he always used to bowl skiddish left-arm spin as a youngster. The ability to flight it better came as a result of working with V Venkatram, Roy’s coach in Jamshedpur.
“He used to bowl very fast left-arm spin, almost medium pace, which you see from those who play tennis ball cricket”, Venkatram had said. “We worked on his run up, then he slowed down a bit and learned to flight the ball as well.”
By the end of the group stages, he had already topped the wicket charts but India needed him to do the job right through the tournament. In a team that has an overdose of slow left-arm spinners, Anukul Roy managed to stand out and how!
A superb, underrated performance in the final of the World Cup will now give him the perfect launch pad to propel his career to heights. While the century from Manjot Kalra in the final will be talked about as much as Unmukt Chand's hundred six years back and the pace trio will, in all likelihood, squeeze their way into the national team, Roy has been the unsung hero of the campaign.
It is most likely to be forgotten that but for Roy’s intervention, India would have chased a much higher total at Mount Maunganui in the final. India had gotten rid of the Australian top three, including their reliable skipper, Jason Sangha, but were starting to get a touch complacent as Jonathan Merlo and Param Uppal built a steady partnership.
The spinners allowed Merlo too much room or bowled too full and soon enough the Aussie pair was starting to hurt the Indians. With the association on 75, Roy decided to switch into Jadeja-mode. He mixed his pace admirably, put Uppal in two minds and the Chandigarh-born Australian batsman gifted a return catch off a slower delivery.
The wicket not only broke Australia's most promising stand in the final but also showed the other Indian spinners that the surface was gripping and holding a touch. This was exploited quite well by Shiva Singh in the next few overs.
Even though they had the Australians on the mat, India needed to get rid of the big fish, Jonathan Merlo, who had by then raced to the seventies and looked good enough to give the Aussies a massive boost in the death overs. Roy had other ideas, though. The variation in pace once again forced an error as Merlo’s ugly reverse sweep found the deep fielder.
The Aussies lost their last four wickets for four runs, something which would have been quite impossible if Roy hadn't broken through with the crucial scalp of Merlo. His figures of 2/32 in seven overs might just read ordinary years later when you glance at the scorecard but World Cup finals are about making an impact and on that count, the tidy spell and the vital two wickets he took brought Australia to a grinding halt at the Bay Oval.
"I didn't expect to play [in the World Cup] so it's a bonus," Roy had said after the group stages. "I go out to enjoy every game. Keep learning, keep trying and good things will happen. If we win, it will be the best thing that will happen to all of us at this age. It could be the start of something big."
Good things have certainly begun for this juggernaut of an Indian side that rarely appeared perturbed by any opposition. The exposure they had gotten before the tournament augured well for these young guns in New Zealand and Roy, in particular, will want to thank the exceptional faith that Rahul Dravid showered on him.
“The Challenger Trophy was the selection matches, but Rahul sir said you need rest, and the World Cup is the big tournament. Still, somewhere there was a fear that I won't be selected because others were performing well in the Challenger Trophy. But Rahul sir showed confidence in me,” Roy had stated.
It is safe to say that Roy has justified the faith shown on him after a superb campaign where he staved off the conditions and some star competitors to emerge as the top wicket-taker. While India and the World can rave about the three pace guns and three outrageous batting talents, Anukul Roy's wonderful campaign is sure to etch a few memories in the minds of fans.
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