It was meant to be a trial by spin for Australia. Instead, Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi, the Indian quicks, were zipping and hooping the ball under Tauranga's night sky at over 140kph. The speed gun, the calibration of which varies from broadcaster to broadcaster, pegged Nagarkoti's fastest ball at 149kph. Mavi's fastest ball was just a shade slower at 146kph. Irrespective of whether this was accurate or not, watching them run in with intensity and flatten the stumps repeatedly was quite a sight.
This reunion of the bowling pair at the Under-19 World Cup nearly didn't happen.
In June, Nagarkoti experienced some pain in his shoulder after the pair had picked up 16 out of the 20 wickets in a green top against England in Chesterfield. After the tour, a scan revealed a tear that needed at least three months to heal. Time spent in rehabilitation at the NCA in Bengaluru made Nagarkoti anxious, but the team management was giving him every opportunity to prove his fitness.
On Sunday, in India's opening game at the Under-19 World Cup, he proved why the team valued him so much. To bounce out batsmen who had a conditioning camp on hard and bouncy surfaces in Brisbane needed some precision. And Nagarkoti showed he wasn't just about pace but married it with accuracy.
Australia opener Jack Edwards, who made a patient 73, admitted to have been taken aback. "Yeah it was a bit of a surprise," he said. "We thought spin definitely would be their strength. We were probably aware they had good quicks, but thought they'd use spin through the middle. They were pretty sharp, I didn't realise it was 145[kph] until one of the boys told me. I guess they bowled not only quick but also accurate, they were pretty tough to get away. We just had to use the pace as much as we could. We didn't play them terribly, definitely could have played them better. It's a good experience facing someone that quick."
The first wicket came about through built-up pressure. In a bid to break free, Max Bryant slapped a length ball straight to Mavi at cover. Then, in his second spell, Nagarkoti peppered Austin Waugh with a series of short deliveries that had him beaten for pace. Then, with the field spread out for the pull, he bowled one full and straight. The ball reversed away a wee bit to induce an edge, which was held by the wicketkeeper. Will Sutherland, who was Nagarkoti's third victim, was late on a forward defence that zipped through to send the off stump cartwheeling.
"I was having a chat with the captain,"Nagarkoti said. "He noticed there was some issue in how he [Austin Waugh] was playing the short ball, so that's what I was trying to do, bowl short and fast. I thought of bowling two short balls and then bowl one full. It worked."
The reverse swing too wasn't a surprise to those who have watched him bowl. His coach Surendra Singh Rathod, who was watching the game on television, has seen Nagarkoti repeatedly destroy stumps on Jaipur dustbowls with the late inward movement, one the quick has learnt over time. "I've seen Waqar Younis, the way he used to reverse the ball," Nagarkoti said of his fascination of the art. "Any bowler who has pace, can get the ball to reverse. I've been working on that. In the evening, there was some breeze so that helped too. If you had control, you could get it to move even for medium-pacers."
Nagarkoti had to be corrected for his use of the word 'medium-pace.' It elicited an innocent smile, but he then elaborated on how he has developed the art of bowling fast. "It helps to have another bowler, who bowls that fast. You want to push yourself too," he said of Mavi. "We discuss a lot on the field. If I have issues, he comes up to me and tells me. I do the same. So we both work on delivering in different situations. My pace has picked up in recent times. A stint at the MRF Pace Foundation has been very helpful. Although I was injured, I worked on regaining strength. At that time, I learnt how fast bowlers balance things out.
"In England in a televised game, someone told me it was 143kph. Today, I was told it's 149. For me, it's just about working on my action and being as consistent as I can be. I didn't try to change much. I just wanted to remain accurate. Mostly our bowling coach Paras Mhambrey tells me to focus on accuracy. There is a tendency to spray the ball if you have pace. That's what I've worked on."
While Nagarkoti was recuperating from injury, Mavi, who comes from Noida, had the experience of bowling in the Afghanistan nets during their training in Greater Noida to bank on, courtesy Lalchand Rajput, the former national coach, who facilitated the sessions. He has also benefitted from a number of Afghanistan's inter-squad matches.
Mavi's action is open-chested, giving you the impression that the ball will come back in. Today, he showed immaculate control in allowing deliveries to hold their line. The pace he's developed over time has come about by plenty of bowling, not just gym work because he was advised against it. This has made him all the more dangerous.
The swing aspect, he's picked up having spent plenty of time in the nets with Anureet Singh, the Railways seamer, who he considers a close friend and mentor. "He sought me out, and that itself shows how much he wants to learn," Anureet said. "He wanted to be effective on flat pitches too. So he worked on improving his pace and not just concentrate on swing. Once he increased his pace, he had most bases covered."
With the largely untested Arshdeep Singh likely to replace Ishan Porel, who injured his ankle, the onus will continue to be on Nagarkoti and Mavi. Indian cricket is replete with examples of fast bowlers bursting through, only to quickly settle into line-and-length bowlers. Only time will tell if these two can produce a different tale, but the early signs are promising.