If you’re planning to watch Kamlesh Nagarkoti bowl, make sure you’re wide awake. With his blink-and-you-miss-it action, the fast-bowling all rounder is one of India’s brightest prospects leading into the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand. While he may not be as tall as Ishan Porel, or doesn't swing the ball as much as Shivam Mavi, he generates surprising arm-speed with his 5’8’’ frame, like the smaller gear that turns faster. Look away for just a moment, and you might miss his release.
Fortunately for Nagarkoti, nearly a decade ago, Surendra Singh Rathod was looking in the right direction at the right time.
Rathod, a BCCI accredited cricket coach, was driving through Jaipur’s army cantonment, a route he took often, when he spied some local boys playing cricket at the Vijay Parade ground. Just as he focused his vision on proceedings, a young boy took a stunning catch, diving into the rough outfield without a care about the bruises he would certainly wear after that.
That catch made Rathod stay and watch the rest of the game, and the longer he lingered, the more he liked what he saw. After the game, he spoke to the boy, and arranged for him to join training at his academy.
That boy was Kamlesh Nagarkoti, and since then, Rathod became Nagarkoti’s coach.
Nagarkoti’s father was a Subedar in the army at the time, and was posted in Jammu and Kashmir. The family had been staying in army quarters in Jaipur since 2004. Rathod met Nagarkoti’s older brother, and apprised him of the boy’s talent. “Mere bharose chod do (I will take care of his cricket, leave it to me)”, Rathod told him.
Under Rathod’s tutelage, Nagarkoti moved up through the Rajasthan and BCCI age group system, impressing with both bat and ball. Things were going according to plan, when Kamlesh’s father, nearing retirement, announced plans to move back to their native Uttarakhand, to the small town of Bageshwar. Rathod intervened, and beseeched the family to remain in Jaipur, so that Nagarkoti’s cricketing career could continue to grow. The final decision was made by Nagarkoti’s father, Laxman Singh Nagarkoti, only after he watched the boy play, the first time he had actually done so.
“I couldn’t watch before, as I used to get very less leave”, said the senior Nagarkoti. “When I saw him playing his match, I felt, yes, Rathod ji is right about him.”
With the money he received at retirement, Laxman Singh invested in a flat in Jaipur. Rathod secured admission for Nagarkoti in the private school where he ran his academy, with the school’s chairman, an avid cricket fan, subsidizing his education. The school accommodated his cricketing career, and according to Rathod, even once arranged for Nagarkoti to appear for a CBSE exam while on tour in Bangladesh (which later proved unnecessary; Nagarkoti returned in time to take his exam). With support from both school and home, Kamlesh’s cricketing evolution continued.
India’s Under-19 tour to England this year was the closest they got to preparing for the kind of conditions they are likely to find in New Zealand. And in the Youth Test leg of that tour, 17-year old Nagarkoti was India’s highest wicket taker. He finished with 14 wickets in the two games, including figures of 10 for 112 in the first match. Six of those ten wickets were bowled. And although Nagarkoti opened the bowling, nine of his ten wickets came later than the 23rd over of the innings. These two facts point to something confirmed by videos of his dismissals: Nagarkoti can reverse swing the ball.
“His biggest weapon is reverse swing”, says Rathod. “He is basically an outswinger with the new ball, but I told him, you need to learn to bowl the semi-new ball. For that he has done a lot of basic drills. Even today, if I tell him to do a simple drill from two steps, he won’t think that ‘now I’m playing higher level cricket, why do this?’”
While the World Cup, played with two new white balls, will not be the best setting to make use of reverse swing, Nagarkoti has shown good control with his repeatable action, and has a useful yorker as well. Most valuable of all, despite his height and age, he is deceptively quick, and hurries even senior level batters.
“There are two ways a fast bowlers bowl fast,” says M Senthilnathan, who supervises the MRF Pace Foundation, where Nagarkoti has already spent a year. “One is through momentum, other is through muscle strength. Kamlesh has good momentum. Plus you need glutes and core strength, and there he is very strong. That’s where his speed comes from. He is deceptively quick, and surprises batsmen.”
It was this pace that helped Nagarkoti claim a first ever List A hat-trick for Rajasthan, in just his second List A match, against Ranji Champions Gujarat. Again, all three wickets were bowled: twice he beat the batters for pace, with their bats visibly coming down a split second after the ball had passed through.
Nagarkoti brings more than his bowling to the table though. Athletic on the field, he is a regular contributor with the bat as well. In the same List A game, Rajasthan were 54 for 6, when Nagarkoti helped put together an 86 run partnership for the 7th wicket, scoring a gritty and unbeaten 56 to give his team something to bowl at. His hat-trick eventually meant that Rajasthan defended 183 to win by 14 runs. In the Under-19 Challenger Trophy from which the World Cup squad was picked, he notched up scores of 0, 35, 51 and 32, batting down the order. Those scores buffed up what was a poor bowling tournament, where he managed just three wickets in four matches.
With more than ten appearances for India Under-19 already, as well as a stint with the India Under-23 team, Nagarkoti is one of the more experienced members of the squad and will be central to India’s fortunes. And with skills in all three departments, it will be hard to keep him out of the game. “He has consistently been outstanding at Under-19. That tells you he is ready the for next level”, said Senthilnathan.
The author is a former India cricketer, and now a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She hosts the YouTube Channel, ‘Cricket With Snehal’, and tweets @SnehalPradhan