Tall fast bowler from Bengal who has represented the country. Took the train from the outskirts of Kolkata to the city every day for cricket training. Can get the ball to rise awkwardly off a good length, and move sharply off the seam.
No, we are not talking about Jhulan Goswami, the India and Bengal legend. We are talking about India Under-19’s Ishan Porel, who could take the new ball for the country in the upcoming Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand.
Cricket kit is expensive. A pair of fast bowling spikes cost anywhere from Rs. five to ten thousand. And bowlers can sometimes go through three pairs a year. So any youngster pursuing cricket needs both moral and financial support from home.
Luckily for Porel, he comes from a family where the value of sport is recognised. His grand father Subhashchandra Porel was a kabaddi player who earned fame in the suburb of Chandannagar, where the Porel family lives. His father, Chandranath Porel played kabaddi himself, earning a job in the mechanical department of Eastern Railway through the sports quota. So when the youngest Porel made his intentions to pursue cricket clear, he received nothing but encouragement, despite his family’s pockets not being exceptionally deep.
Cricket wasn’t a straightforward choice though. The young Porel played other sports as a child: his family favourite, kabaddi, and table tennis, according to his father. But around age eight, inspired watching the men in blue on television, he decided that cricket was it.
By the time he was on the cusp of teenage-hood, Porel was tall and quick for his age, even before the growth spurt that propelled him to his current height of 6’3’’. That was when he met his current coach, Bibhas Das in Kolkata. Das’s club, Utpal Chaterjee Cricket Academy, often invited players from Chandannagar for nets and matches. There Das not only saw talent in Porel, but also some areas that needed urgent attention.
“When I saw him, I felt he had some issues with his action”, Das told Firstpost. “He was bowling with a mixed action. Half open, half side on. I advised him to change it to a front-on action.” Bowlers with mixed actions often suffer back injuries later in their career, due to the stress the spine suffers while bowling. Das also intervened in Porel’s fitness: “He was physically very unfit.”
So Porel began travelling 40 odd kilometers one way by local train every morning, often leaving the home at 5 AM, to train at Das’ academy. Initially his mother would accompany him, but soon, barely a teenager, he developed the confidence to make the journey alone. “If he has a two day or three day match, or a camp, he would stay at my house”, said Das, who took him under his wing. He describes Porel as ‘hasmukh’, one who always has a smile on his face on the ground, no matter the early morning tribulations he endured to get there.
The 2014-15 season was Porel’s first stepping stone to greater things. As a part of Bengal Under-16s, he travelled across the border to play the Bangladesh Under-16 team, where he claimed a five-for in the first game, and finished with eight wickets in three matches. He was also picked to play for Bengal Under-19 at just 15. Porel flourished in what Das describes as ‘a good atmosphere for fast bowlers’.
“Since Ganguly has come to CAB (Cricket Association of Bengal) the wickets have been excellent”, he said. Porel was hovering at the edges of the Ranji trophy set up, close to the experience of Ashok Dinda, Ranadeb Bose (bowling coach) and the occasional appearance of Mohammed Shami. And as part of Cricket Association of Bengal’s ‘Vision 2020’, he benefitted from the presence of Waqar Younis, who mentored the fast bowlers early in the program. “Waqar told Ishan to never compromise on pace”, Das shared. “Whatever happens, don’t reduce pace. Swing will come, he said.”
Porel had developed into a quick bowler with a rare asset: he could move the ball both ways despite having an open-chested action, which lends itself mainly to shaping the ball in to a right-hander. He seemed to be in line for a Ranji Trophy debut, when an injury set him back by a month: “Last year, he had an injury at the time of Durga Pujo”, said Das. “He was pandal-hopping with his friends, and had a late night. Next day in nets he picked up a side strain.” Das says that barring one other occasion, that was the only time he saw the happy-go-lucky Porel truly dejected.
While Porel’s chances of playing in the Ranji season were scuttled, he did make it to the India Under-19 setup on the back of his performances in age group tournaments. He made fleeting appearances in India’s twin series against England this year, first at home and then away. Then he finally made his first-class debut in November 2017. He was left out of India’s team for the Under-19 Asia Cup so he could play the Ranji Trophy, and responded with a five wicket haul in his second game. Overall, he took 13 wickets in three matches, either side of the Under-19 Challenger Trophy, where he was the second highest wicket taker.
Porel is riding a crest in his career, and he could not have picked a better time to peak. A year ago, he was not a certainty in the India Under-19 XI. Now, he will go to New Zealand with the confidence of success at first-class level. With a coach who prizes experience in first-class cricket above international Under-19s, expect Porel to take the new ball in India’s opening match against Australia, come 14 January.