It was February 3, 2018. India had just completed their invincible run to clinch the U-19 World Cup title, beating Australia by 8 wickets in the final of the tournament. The class of 2018 gave India a plethora of talent, and some have justifiably made appearances in Tests and ODIs. The tournament, however, was best known for the emergence of two seething pacers – Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti.
Both consistently clocked speeds of over 140 km/h throughout the tournament, earning praises from fans and former cricketers alike. Current BCCI President Sourav Ganguly, who was the chief of Cricket Association of Bengal at the time, even asked the Indian captain Virat Kohli to “keep an eye” on Nagarkoti and Mavi. “@imVkohli @VVSLaxman281 @BCCI keep an eye on two under 19quicks ..mavi and nagarkotti ..bowling at 145 in newzealand ..brilliant ..” he wrote on his official Twitter account.
Nagarkoti took two wickets in the final including that of the Australian captain Jason Sangha. Mavi took the final wicket of the innings. Both ended with a combined total of 18 wickets in the tournament. The new generation of Indian pace attack was here – up and coming, and ready for final furnishing before a long career in the international setup beckoned.
Who knew, then, that it would be their final appearance together in a cricket match for over two years.
Nagarkoti made only two List A appearances for Rajasthan before being ruled out of his maiden Indian Premier League season with a fractured foot. He was bought for Rs 3.2 crore by Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL auction ahead of the 2018 season.
Recurring back injury further ruled him out for 19 months, before he was on the verge of a comeback in the Emerging Teams Asia Cup last year. However, he missed out again – this time, unwell. Mavi took his place in the squad.
“I wasn’t ready for matches and I saw all my friends and colleagues were playing games. I was disappointed I couldn’t play with them. It hurt that I wasn’t able to go to the ground,” Nagarkoti had said in an interaction with Sportstar last year.
Mavi was also picked up by the KKR in the same auction and appeared in nine matches in his first season with the franchise. He looked like a work-in-progress, as Mavi took five wickets in the tournament. He faced a setback ahead of the 2019 season, however, as he was ruled out with a back injury. He did make a comeback later in the same year, but faced a stress fracture in the back again.
Had the coronavirus pandemic not delayed the 2020 edition, Mavi and Nagarkoti would’ve likely missed another season of the tournament. However, the extended break allowed both the players to complete their rehab process.
Throughout this time, Kolkata Knight Riders stuck with the two youngsters and after the game against Rajasthan Royals on Wednesday, both thanked the management for “showing faith.”
“I am feeling very good. Today I got my debut wickets in the match against Royals. I hope that we continue our winning run. For a player, it is important that he gets opportunities. The management has backed us for two years. I did not play but still the management backed me. Whenever I needed something, the management provided it to me,” Nagarkoti told KKR captain Dinesh Karthik in the post-match interview.
West Indies’ former cricketer-turned-commentator Ian Bishop, who has religiously followed the growth of various U-19 cricketers in the past few years, had high praise for the KKR management for persisting with the two. “It’s been 2 years in the making waiting to see Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nargakoti together again. Great compliment to Venky Mysore and and @KKRiders for staying the course with these two young men,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mysore, who is the co-owner of the franchise, acknowledged the compliment and further said that the duo will soon make India “proud.”
“That’s very kind Bish. These kids deserve everything. They are so grounded & have so much skill, no doubt they will make all of India proud soon!” he wrote.
The duo returned to the field together for the first time in a professional cricket match on September 26, 2020 – 966 days after the victorious final match of the U-19 World Cup. It was a long wait – but the one which has begun to reap rewards.
Against Rajasthan Royals, the two youngsters were key to the side’s dominant 37-run victory. Defending the 177-run target, Mavi removed the dangerous Jos Buttler and in-form batsman Sanju Samson in his first spell to put Royals on backfoot. Nagarkoti, then, inflicted the double blow in the same over by dismissing Robin Uthappa and Riyan Parag.
Nagarkoti’s wickets were also a sweet coming-together of the three stars of India’s U-19 campaign in 2018. While Mavi took Uthappa’s catch, Shubman Gill caught Riyan Parag.
While Shubman Gill has established himself in the KKR lineup, and is even touted for leadership role by many, the journey for Mavi and Nagarkoti had been full of struggles. As the trio finally reunited for the KKR, it is delivering exactly what the franchise expected – dominant wins and a bright future as the upcoming core of the side.
Gill has already found a place in the Indian squad, even as he is not one of the mainstays in the XI yet. His U-19 World Cup captain, Prithvi Shaw has already given promising signs for the future after some impressive performances with the Test side. The Indian fans would now expect Mavi and Nagarkoti to embark on a consistent run in IPL 2020, for the two possess all the abilities to take over the reins from current Indian pace attack.