The first thing that strikes you when Kamlesh Nagarkoti speaks is his clarity of thought. He listens carefully to every question, pauses and then answers calmly. And, he is only 17.
Bustling through the crease with a quick, whippy action, Nagarkoti was one of the star performers during India Under-19’s recent uber-successful tour of England. The leading wicket-taker for the visitors snapped up 14 wickets at 15.14 and an impressive strike rate of 26.7 in the two Youth ‘Tests’.
In his very first trip outside the Indian subcontinent, he started with a bang, with a match-haul of 10 for 112 in the first ‘Test’ in Chesterfield. In the second in Worcester, he returned figures of 4 for 100 as India won both four-day games with considerable ease.
“It is very important that in English conditions, we made the new ball to count,” Nagarkoti told Wisden India. “To be honest, we did not get the kind of wickets we were expecting. We had heard that the pitches in England were suited to fast bowling, that wasn’t really the case. So it was important to make use of the conditions on offer.
“Although I had been to Sri Lanka for the Youth Asia Cup, this was my first time outside of the subcontinent. Initially it was a little tough, but then with time, you get used to it.”
Though not as tall as some of his English counterparts, Nagarkoti action allows him to shape the new ball away from right-hand batsmen at pace, and he can come up with a surprise, heavy short ball as well.
As if to reiterate that fast bowlers hunt in pairs, Shivam Mavi proved to be the perfect foil for Nagarkoti, picking up ten wickets in two matches.
While Mavi is predominantly a swing bowler who can also nip the ball off the seam both ways, Nagarkoti with his pace can ruffle up any batsman. The duo ensured that at no stage did England run away with the game even if they were not getting wickets.
“That was one thing both Shivam and I had in mind,” revealed Nagarkoti. “We were roommates, and we used to keep talking regularly off the field as well, the areas to pitch the ball and how to work on the weak areas of the batsman.
“Our analyst, Devraj (Raut) sir, used to show us videos of the English batsmen, highlighting the areas we should bowl and that helped us plan our strategy better.”
This wasn’t the first time the Englishmen were coming up against Nagarkoti’s skills. He was the leading wicket-taker in the one-day series in India earlier this year, picking up seven wickets despite playing just three games. He had also been equally effective with the bat, scoring 81 runs in the three games batting lower down the order with a highest of 40, which paved the way for his selection to the India Under-23 team for the ACC’s Emerging Cup in Dhaka.
Growing up in Barmer, the third-largest district in Rajasthan, Nagarkoti had a penchant for fast bowling from an early age. It was his older brother who noticed the spark first and got him enrolled in an academy.
“When I started off, it was more of a hobby than anything else,” said Nagarkoti. “It was only after my brother encouraged me that I decided to pursue the sport seriously.
Nagarkoti on Rahul Dravid:
“Dravid Sir to bhut motivational hain. The kinds of things he tells you, the kinds of things one gets to learn from him, is massive. When he talks, you feel that if you follow his advice, you will end up on the right path.”
“Bhaiya got me enrolled in Sanskaar Academy under Surendra Singh Rathore, the coach there. He was highly impressed by what he saw of me, insisting that I had all the qualities to become a good medium pacer.”
Coming up the ranks playing age-group cricket, Nagarkoti made his List A debut for Rajasthan earlier this year in the Vijay Hazare Trophy against Mumbai. He grabbed everyone’s attention in just his second game against Gujarat, at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai. Chasing 184 for victory, the reigning Ranji Trophy champions were on course at 152 for 5 with more than 12 overs to spare. Having already rescued his team from a precarious 54 for 6 with an unbeaten 56, the 17-year-old worked his way into the record books by claiming the first ever hat-trick by a Rajasthan bowler in List A cricket to propel his side to a 14-run win.
“I like bowling with the older ball more,” admitted Nagarkoti, whose hat-trick victims were all clean bowled. “I just tried keeping the ball stump to stump. Batsmen don’t really like reverse swing, I was just looking to extract that. That is how I got all the wickets.”
From a side that includes Pankaj Singh, who has represented India in two Test matches, and Nathu Singh, who raked in Rs 3.2 crore from Mumbai Indians for IPL 9, it was no mean achievement for Nagarkoti to finish the tournament as his team’s leading wicket-taker with nine wickets from five games at 17.55.
Overall, in six List A matches so far, Nagarkoti has picked up nine wickets at 20.77. He has also made 116 runs at a perfectly acceptable 38.66.
Woorkeri Raman, who filled for Rahul Dravid as the head coach on the tour of England, has been effusive in his praise of Nagarkoti. “Nagarkoti can be quick, he does extract a fair bit of bounce and he has got real good fitness levels,” Raman had told Wisden India. “And he is very athletic. All in all, he is a good package. He can also bat a little bit, he can go on to become an allrounder if he does pay a little bit of attention to his batting, and he is a fabulous fielder. Over the next 2-3 years, if his path is not hindered by things not in his control, I think he should be there in another three years’ time.”
In the final match of the 50-over series in England, Nagarkoti gave a good account of his batting. He shepherded a tricky chase with an unbeaten 26 to guide India home by one wicket, ensuring a 5-0 whitewash.
“I focus on batting as much as my bowling,” observed Nagarkoti. “If I have to play at the top level, being an allrounder is extremely important. I practice as much as I can, closely monitor whatever is being taught to the batsmen, and try to execute it accordingly.”
A massive Rohit Sharma and Mohammed Shami fan, Nagarkoti is also a keen football enthusiast, with Cristiano Ronaldo his favourite. His immediate focus is on the Under-19 Vinoo Mankad Trophy, starting on October 7, and perhaps, the chance to represent Rajasthan in the Ranji Trophy could then open up.
“I am not looking too far ahead of myself, to be honest,” admitted Nagarkoti. “I have the Youth Asia Cup, the Vinoo Mankad Trophy. I am just focussing to do well there, and then if I perform well, I might get selected for the U-19 World Cup as well.”
Playing the IPL is also on the wish-list of the 17-year-old. “IPL khelna to ek dream hai,” he said, wistfully. “But I have a long way to go before I reach that level. There are so many players of international repute who take part, and to reach there, I know I have to practice a lot.
“If I am capable enough, then age will not be a factor. I can’t think I am bigger than anyone, but I also cannot let anyone get the better of me.”