Angkrish Raghuvanshi was just 11 years old when he travelled to Mumbai from Delhi to train under Abhishek Nayar and Omkar Salvi for a week. He would wake up early and visit the Wilson College Gymkhana for a rigorous and ‘exciting’ training session.
Back then, he had no clue what top-tier cricket meant, but all Angkrish knew was that he had to pursue the game he had fallen in love with. So, a few weeks later, when Nayar — a former India international — told Angrkrish’s parents that he should consider shifting to Mumbai permanently, the youngster knew that his life would change.
But who would have thought then that about seven years later, the youngster would become the talking point for his outstanding show in the U-19 World Cup!
In the Caribbean, Angkrish scored 278 runs in six outings — with an average of 46.23 — to become the leading run-scorer for India. As he basks in the glory, Angkrish remembers the time when he would stay at Nayar’s residence in Powai and work hard to get enough game time. Hailing from a sporting family — his father is a former tennis player and mother played basketball — Angkrish knew that it would be challenging to achieve his goal, but he was determined.
“Abhishek sir had made the transition from Delhi to Mumbai really smooth, so that was not a problem at all,” Angriksh tells Sportstar . Having played enough junior-level cricket, Angkrish was looking forward to some exciting times when he made the cut for the U-19 World Cup. After spending months with the Indian team, he admits that those experiences will help him a lot going forward. “It was a good tournament, where I could score runs. It was a learning experience,” he says.
During the tournament, Angkrish and his team-mates had long sessions with Indian cricket legend and the NCA cricket director VVS Laxman, who was in the Caribbean to guide the team. “Laxman sir worked on the mental side of things. He told us instances on how he would play with Rahul Dravid and other legends and prepare for a big game. It was a huge thing to be able to learn so much from him,” Angkrish says.
Angkrish’s roommate in Guyana, Raj Angad Bawa, too, agrees that the sessions with Laxman helped immensely. The fast bowling all-rounder Bawa had a memorable tournament as he scalped a five-for against England to pave the way for India’s title triumph. Bawa scored 252 runs in six games and scalped nine wickets. In the group league match, Bawa shattered Shikhar Dhawan’s record for the highest score by an Indian in the tournament with an unbeaten 162 off 108 deliveries with 14 fours and eight sixes against Uganda.
“I want to take it step by step. For now, the focus shifts to Ranji Trophy and if I get an opportunity to play, the target will be to perform well,” Bawa says.
Soon after reaching India, most of the U-19 players have entered the bio-bubble with their respective state teams for Ranji Trophy and Bawa, too, has been drafted into the Chandigarh team. The 19-year-old bowling all-rounder hails from a family of sporting riches. His grandfather, Tarlochan Singh Bawa, was a key member of the 1948 Olympic gold-winning Indian team while his father Sukhwinder Singh Bawa trained Yuvraj Singh in his formative years.
A hard-hitting left-hand batter and a crafty right-arm medium pacer, Bawa displayed glimpses of his skill during the Vinoo Mankad Trophy and the Challenger Trophy in October-November 2021. He picked up eight wickets from four matches during the U-19 Asia Cup in the UAE as well.
“The World Cup was a different experience altogether. Even Laxman sir praised us a lot. Despite some of the players testing COVID-19 early on, we never gave up and went on chasing our dreams, so the team bonding was really good,” Bawa says.
The players understand that not all will make the transition and break into the senior national team. But going forward, they want to make the most of every opportunity.
Captain Yash Dhull has set himself an 18-month target to enter the Indian senior team, but not all are willing to rush things. “It will be challenging for me to adapt to the four-day format as I am not that familiar with it. But, when you dream big, you have to adjust as quickly as possible,” Shaik Rasheed, India’s vice-captain and the batter, who amassed 201 runs in the tournament, says.
Rasheed started playing gully cricket in Hyderabad’s Dilsukhnagar when he was just eight years old. He even played for Sportive Cricket Club in the HCA League. However, he seriously fell in love with the sport once his family shifted to Guntur about a decade ago.
“There was some pressure as you are one of the key members whom the team looked up to. But that also meant rising to the challenges and I am glad to have contributed my bit in the team winning the World Cup,” Rasheed says.
Going forward, he wants to make his presence felt in the longer format and prove his mettle in the Ranji Trophy.
It is a similar story for his U-19 team-mates.
Vicky Ostwal, the highest wicket-taker for India in the tournament with 12 scalps, entered the Maharashtra Ranji Trophy bubble in Gurgaon, barely a couple of days after landing in India. “After playing white ball cricket, my target is to prove myself in the first-class set up. It will be a new beginning for me and I am looking forward to learning a lot from my coaches and senior players,” Ostwal says.
During the World Cup, Ostwal had long sessions with bowling coach Sairaj Bahutule. “Sai sir was helping me learn a lot of new things. I interacted with him a lot and his guidance actually helped me immensely.”
“It’s a dream come true for us. It was a very good tournament as we won every match, including the warm-ups. We dominated the tournament, and all of us stepped up. It was a great learning as we got to interact with coaches and Laxman sir ,” he says.
While Ostwal wants to make it count in the Ranji Trophy, his other team-mates Ravi Kumar — who scalped 10 wickets in the tournament — and Nishant Sindhu also want to make their presence felt in the first-class circuit. After being part of a historic win, the young guns want to break into the senior team someday, but they don't want to rush things.
U-19 mission accomplished, time to get ready for the big-ticket league.
INDIA’S TOP PERFORMERS