Over 1.1 - With the batsman yet to get off the mark, Jason Ralston pitches the ball up, hoping to swing it into the left-hander and get him LBW. Manjot Kalra covers for what little movement is there, and brings the bat down straight. The ball cannons past the bowler for four, and Kalra starts his innings with a boundary off the first ball.
Most cricketing stories start with a straight drive. For the young Kalra, around seven years old, it began with the straight path to the cricket ground, on the heels of his older brother. Hitesh Kalra played age-group cricket for Delhi as an all-rounder, but it was the younger of the siblings, the left-handed Manjot, that coach Suresh Batra saw talent in.
“He had good timing from the start, and brilliant judgment of the ball, right from day one," Batra told Firstpost.
Over 9.3 - After being beaten and edging a few early on, Will Sutherland gives Kalra a little width on the front foot. Kalra does not hesitate to express himself: a lofted cover drive that beats the fielder for four.
Kalra made his way up the highly competitive Delhi cricket system, and began regularly representing his state in age-group cricket as an opener. But the season he really made an impression was 2016-17, when he almost topped the run-scorer list for the Cooch Behar Trophy, scoring 742 runs in nine games, helping Delhi to the final. His timing could not have been better; India had just started a new under-19 World Cup cycle, and were starting to build a team. Kalra made his Youth One-Day International (ODI) debut at the age of 18, in February 2017, against the visiting England under-19 side.
Over 9.5 - It’s the backfoot where Kalra looks his best. Sutherland tries to slant one across him, just short of length. Kalra stands tall and punches the ball through point, not hitting it too hard, and it races away for four. Classical batting.
When India tour England in July 2017, Kalra is picked only for the Youth Tests, and does not make the ODI squad. With the World Cup round the corner, Kalra makes a statement. Batting at No 4, he scores 122 off 117 balls in the first innings of the first game. Although he cannot add much to that score in the rest of the series, he makes the required impression. Six months later, he would find himself in the Indian ODI team for the World Cup. But not without some drama.
Over 11.1 - Sutherland comes around the wicket now, and the plan almost works. The ball invites Kalra to drive, and he plays an uppish shot. A few degrees squarer and it would have gone straight to cover, and Kalra’s bright innings would have been over. But it sails through the gap, and runs away for four.
Just when Kalra was looking like a good bet for the plane to New Zealand, he had to go through a difficult phase. “Some other parent also wanted his child to play (for India). So they made a baseless complaint about Manjot’s age”, said Batra. According to report, Kalra was cleared by the BCCI, having provided the required documents according to protocol. But since a police complaint had been lodged in the matter, the Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA) asked him to undergo a medical test again.
“He has cleared the medical test. It was a bone age x-ray”, said Batra.
The episode was a major distraction for Kalra. “When a player is playing well, this can disturb you; after all he is very young, we also get disturbed by these kind of things. So I had a talk with him”, said Batra. “I told him, if you want to become a big person, a big player, these problems will come. You have to put it out of your mind.”
Over 16.6 - A pitched-up ball from Jack Edwards, 126 kph, on the off stump. Kalra repeats the shot that opened his account, only this time playing it in the air and over mid off, taking him to 36. Two overs later, he brings up his maiden fifty in Youth ODIs.
After being part of India’s disastrous Asia Cup campaign, where they lost to a team that eventually didn’t qualify for the under-19 World Cup, Kalra made some reassuring runs in domestic cricket. In the under-19 Challenger, from where the Indian team for New Zealand would be finalised, he finished as the seventh highest scorer. His 142 runs in four games helped India Blue to the title.
Over 19.5 - You know it’s a good shot when it beats both infielders and outfielders. Kalra stays leg side of the ball, creating width, and punches off the back foot. Extra cover can only watch as it goes by, and deep point loses a futile race to cut it off.
Apparent in his maiden Youth ODI fifty, was Kalra’s uncommon foot movement. While most initial movements take a player’s backfoot back and across towards the off side, Kalra’s moves back, and a bit towards the leg side. This allows him to create some width, and naturally helps his backfoot game, especially while hitting square of the wicket.
“His initial movement is behind, and that’s why he will make more runs in New Zealand, where there are bouncy tracks”, said Batra. “It was a part of his game. We started working on forward movement, but thought since he’s going to New Zealand, let his technique be as it is. Once he comes to India, we will change it a bit as per lower bounce wickets.”
This may make Kalra susceptible to the ball that moves away off a good length, as he will have to reach for it more. But Sunday’s game provided no such challenges. That it was played on a flat batting wicket that allowed the batters to dominate did help.
Over 34.5 - Kalra looks to whip the off-spinner over mid-wicket, eyeing the unprotected boundary behind the fielder. But he does not get the required elevation, and a smart catch sees him walking back for 86 off 99 balls.
Despite a soft dismissal short of a hundred, Kalra will draw confidence and lessons from the knock. Having started the tournament well, he will be keen to end it in the same fashion: A big score in an Indian win.
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