New Delhi: India U-19 star Manjot Kalra has been riding a wave of success in recent weeks. Not only was he among the handful of teenage Indian cricketers to bag an Indian Premier League (IPL) contract, but his match-winning century in the final of the recently-concluded ICC U-19 World Cup has already made him a hero in the eyes of a billion people.
Kalra did not quite feature among the top run-getters in the tournament, and yet his contributions for the side couldn't have come at more crucial junctures — getting big scores against the side considered the closest to the Indians in terms of quality.
Not only was he among the top three of the Indian batting order who rose to the occasion in the tournament opener, but he anchored the Indian innings in the summit clash with an unbeaten 101, making the chase look like a cakewalk in the end.
On being asked about his match-winning hundred in the final, Kalra went on to describe it as an innings that he is not likely to forget in a very long time.
"Yes, it will be the greatest knock. It is one innings that I will remember for a lifetime," said Kalra on the sidelines of an event hosted by GNC India in the national capital on Wednesday, adding that holding the World Cup in their hands was the fulfillment of dreams of sorts for the team.
India were considered favourites ahead of the tournament, which was being hosted in New Zealand for the third time, as they were in the previous edition in which they coasted their way to the summit clash of the tournament, before losing to the West Indians in the final.
Kalra, however, said that the squad was asked to treat the opening game of the tournament against the Australians as "just another game" in order to soothe their nerves ahead of the high-profile ICC event.
"There was a lot of nervousness in the build-up to the game given that it was the first match of the World Cup, and we were up against Australia, a quality team — the side that eventually made it to the final.
"We were however, asked to treat it like a normal game at the end of the day, and were told to calm our nerves going into the game," said the southpaw opener, who had been playing the U-19 Challenger Trophy in Mumbai just before BCCI's announcement of the World Cup squad, with his inclusion leading to joyous celebrations back in his Delhi residence.
India went on to dominate every single match that they played in the tournament like few teams have either in the junior or the senior World Cups. The difference in quality between India and the rest of the teams was evident in the winning margins, with a strong team like Australia suffering defeats of 100 runs and eight wickets in the tournament opener and final respectively.
"The bonding within the team was quite strong, as there were quite a few of us who had played alongside each other for a long time, around 10 months or so. A lot of us went on tours, attended camps together and stayed together in our preparation (for the World Cup)," responded Kalra when asked about the factors behind India's domination of other teams in the event.
Rahul Dravid has left a lasting legacy as a batsman, and now he is well on his way towards writing another chapter of success with his ongoing stint as the coach of the India A and U-19 teams. The former India captain has been hailed for his success in grooming talent at the grassroots level for Indian cricket, and with the 'Boys in Blue' winning the junior World Cup for a record fourth time, he continues to be a talking point among fans and pundits alike.
"I would say that he is very calm, humble and a down-to-earth person," said Kalra, echoing the views of his teammates Shubman Gill and Abhishek Sharma in an interview published recently on Firstpost, adding that spending a lot of time with Dravid over the months made him extremely approachable a person.
Kalra was among the U-19 stars who bagged IPL contracts in the recently-concluded Player Auction, as he got picked by the Delhi Daredevils, the franchise representing his hometown for his base price of Rs 20 lakh. With the kind of form that he has displayed in the World Cup, it shouldn't be difficult for him to get a game or two in the tournament that kicks off on 7 April.
As far as sharing the dressing room with some of the top cricketers from around the world is concerned, Kalra couldn't have sounded more optimistic.
"I’m very excited for the IPL. So far I had been faving U-19 bowlers, and now I will be up against the senior bowlers, and can’t wait for that challenge. Plus, there is a lot to learn while spending time with them," described Kalra, who added that he is setting his sights on the cash-rich league as well as the Ranji season while plotting his course towards the Virat Kohli-led senior team.