14 January, 2018
The world raved about South Africa's quartet of seamers — Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Lungi Ngidi.
It's not often that a team produces four exceptional fast bowlers at the same time and then choose to play all four of them in the same XI.
You sit back and think that South Africa had just lost their premier seamer, Dale Steyn, to injury but they seemed completely unaffected by it as out came another seamer who would eventually go on to win the Man of the Match in the Test against India at Centurion.
Michael Holding, part of a quartet of the most dangerous fast bowlers the cricketing world has ever seen, commented that with Philander in the setup, South Africa were even better than the West Indian predators of the late 1970s and 1980s. This was an intimidating, blood-thirsty foursome on any surface.
About 12,000 kms away from Supersport Park, at the Bay Oval in New Zealand, three Indian seamers, just out of school and representing their country in a World Cup had Australian Under-19 batsmen jumping on their toes with searing pace and disconcerting bounce.
Take this in. This was a country where world-class fast bowlers were a rare breed. You think of India and fast bowlers, and the few that come to mind are Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan.
The scenario has changed in the past few years, though. The current Indian Test team has five captivating seamers - Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav - each delightful in their own special way.
But nothing could have depicted India's ever increasing contribution to the fast bowling world better than that Under-19 match at Bay Oval on 14 January.
Shivam Mavi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Ishan Porel turned into India’s newest cricketing sensations.
While Under-19 World Cups have thrown several Indian batsmen into the limelight, it isn't often that a fast bowler, let alone three, grab headlines.
Nagarkoti ran in during the 15th over of Australia's run chase and bowled at speeds that were reportedly 144 kmph, 144kmph, 146 kmph, 143kmph, 144kmph and 147kmph. He returned when Austin Waugh was at the crease in the 35th over and beat him with bounce in the first two balls before landing a fuller ball and then hurtling two more at 145kmph. The final ball sent Austin back to the hut as his father, Steve Waugh, watched in dismay from the stands.
The world sat up and took notice. This was an Indian seamer, still in his teens, sending shivers down the spine of Steve Waugh’s son. This wasn't something the cricketing fraternity was used to seeing. Indian seamers, unlike their spin counterparts, are supposed to be batsman friendly or that at least was the case till a few years back.
No longer does it hold true and the trio of Under-19 seamers kept proving a point right through the tournament.
If Nagarkoti's venomous pace was spine-chilling, Mavi wasn't too far behind either and also swung the ball around mercilessly. For somebody who sustained a grade-two tear to his knee and recovered through physiotherapy, this was a remarkable turnaround.
Reverse swing, scorching pace and exceptional control has seen Mavi steal the limelight at the Under-19 World Cup. A highlight of Mavi’s performance has been his ability to bowl outswingers and inswingers with equal ease. Add consistency in line and length and a mind-boggling economy rate of 3.77 and you have a champion fast bowler.
It was of little surprise when Kolkata Knight Riders went after the two young fast bowlers at the IPL auctions and secured them both for a price greater than Rs 3 crore. You could almost hear whispers about the two being bargain buys. Such was the impact that they had created across five matches in New Zealand.
Away from the IPL spotlight, Porel, who sustained a heel injury in the first match of the tournament, made a roaring return to join his two partners in crime. Not as quick as Mavi and Nagarkoti, Porel relies on his 6’3 frame to generate disturbing bounce.
A miserly five-over spell in the quarter-finals against Bangladesh came too late for him as the IPL auction happened in the next two days. Surprisingly, he was unsold but he showed his real mettle two days later in the semi-finals when he ran through Pakistan's top-order with a 4/17 that saw the arch-rivals succumb to a meagre 69 all-out.
Porel idolises Brett Lee and it can be seen in the golden streak that runs through his hair and at an age when Lee started making his mark, Porel is making batsmen hop for fun.
“I consciously refrain from thinking of the batsman I am bowling to. I focus on myself and what the team’s plans are and accordingly decide on my deliveries. Even if he has scored a century in the last game, I know that cricket is a game of just one delivery. One good ball is needed to dismiss an in-form player. Don’t you think I have the upper edge in this batsman’s game?”, Porel had said in an interview a year ago.
That kind of maturity at such a young age is what separates Porel from his two companions. Together, the three form an intimidating pace trio and it is safe to say that they have been at the heart of India's surge to the final of the tournament and could very well decide their fate in the final too.
The Australian players have relied on their bowlers to bowl out their opposition below 200 and have come out successful in four of the five matches, with the first match against India being an exception. But their bowling has come together much better later in the tournament and India will rely on their own three quick men, who notably outbowled their Australian counterparts comfortably in the first round, to skittle the opposition out.
“These guys haven’t faced so many guys who are consistently up around 135-140 mark. It’s a great challenge, it’s fantastic to see some young fast bowlers coming out of India. They are obviously some good bowlers (in the senior side) at the moment, but usually we speak about spinners coming out of there. It’s fantastic to see young fast bowlers there," Ryan Harris, former Australian seamer and currently coaching their Under-19 side said in praise of India's seam bowling attack.
Praise is pouring in for the young triumvirate and they could well be leading India’s pace attack when the 2023 Cricket World Cup comes home. Given the outstanding tournament they have had, it won't be a surprise to see a couple of them steam in to bowl in their Blues for India as early as in the showpiece event in England next year. But for now, the question is how well can they emulate their own heroics in the final on Saturday?