The Georgetown Cricket Club, also known as Bourda, is Guyana’s former Test centre as well as the home of legends like Rohan Kanhai, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan and others. It’s not anymore an international cricket venue but it did host the practice sessions of the Indian Under-19 side during the first half of the 2022 Under-19 World Cup. And while covering one such session, I saw a left-hander hitting massive straight sixes while batting at the nets.
That is when I got my first glimpse of Raj Angad Bawa, who was then referred by a member of the Indian contingent as “Yuvraj Singh in the making…”
However, unlike Yuvraj, who was more of a batting all-rounder, Bawa’s role in this India U-19 side is more demanding. He is the designated third seamer in the XI, as well as a middle-order batter.
The tournament’s first stop for India was against South Africa, their opener. With the bat, Bawa only made 13 and with the ball, when his team was just defending 233, the Chandigarh lad was wayward with his line and length. As a result, he went for 17 in his first over with the likes of Dewald Brevis and Valentine Kitime going after him.
Immediately, skipper Yash Dhull took him off the attack and brought him back only in the 36th over.
Bawa got the key wicket of Brevis in that over with Dhull taking a brilliant low catch. That breakthrough turned the game around in India’s favour. Later the medium pacer had three more breakthroughs and finished with figures of 4 for 47 in 6.4 overs.
However, he was not satisfied with his efforts, especially with leaking runs upfront. After all, Bawa comes from a proud sporting family with competitiveness in his blood.
India’s next stop was Port of Spain, where they had to play Ireland and Uganda at the Brian Lara Cricket academy ground. Prior to those games, India had a few days’ break. It was during this period that Bawa went into his own bubble to improve his game.
“Bawa is very serious about his cricket,” Dhull narrated the comeback story of his premier all-rounder on Saturday after winning the world title.
“At times, when there was no match, we used to take a break and socialise amongst ourselves. But after that South Africa game, Bawa went into his own bubble. He used to think a lot about his game. At the nets, he was constantly working on his bowling with the coaches.”
At times during India’s training sessions, Bawa was the only pacer bowling in the nets. And he used to bowl for a long period under the watchful eyes of bowling coach Sairaj Bahutule, even prior to the match day. It shows the kind of dedication and discipline this 19-year-old has in his game.
Soon the improvement in his performance was evident on the field as he started hitting the right areas consistently. In fact, throughout the entire U-19 World Cup, Bawa was one of the toughest bowlers to face at the nets. Any member of the Indian batting contingent can vouch for this.
With his bowling, the confidence in batting also returned as he scored 42 against Ireland batting at No 3 and then followed it up with a record-breaking unbeaten 162 off 108 balls against Uganda to go past Shikhar Dhawan’s 155 against Scotland in 2004 as the highest score by an Indian at an ICC U-19 World Cup.
“My father [Sukhwinder Bawa] trained Yuvraj Singh. I used to watch him when I was a kid, and used to emulate him while batting. I watched him when he used to play, his batting videos, he’s like my role model,” said the youngster following his ‘Player of the Match’ effort in the final.
“As an all-rounder, I like to contribute to the team’s victory in any way possible, whether that’s batting, bowling, fielding. I love playing cricket.”
Meanwhile, as a bowler, it seems that he saved his best for the final. Following that opening spell of Ravi Kumar, Bawa backed things up with a fiery effort. He was hitting the deck hard, getting extra lift off the surface and made the ball talk.
He bowled seven overs on a trot in his initial spell, got one maiden, gave away 19 runs and took four crucial scalps. That period of play broke the backbone of English batting. And of course, the highlight of the spell was the delivery which he bowled to get rid of George Bell.
A surprise bouncer right up on the grill of the batter, did not allow him any option to sway out of the way but to nick it behind to the keeper Dinesh Bana — a kind of dismissal that would please any fast bowler the most.
Eventually, his final figures of 5 for 31 has now become the best bowling performance ever in the U-19 World Cup final history.
Later in the run-chase, Bawa chipped in with crucial 35 runs after India lost Shaik Rasheed and Dhull in quick succession. And during that knock, the pick-up shot he hit against one of the English fast bowlers, which went deep down the mid-wicket fence, brought back the memories of Yuvraj’s glory days.
Raj Bawa in the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2022:
13 and 4/47 vs South Africa
42 and 0/24 vs Ireland
162* and 0/12 vs Uganda
0 and 0/16 vs Bangladesh
0/20 vs Australia
35 and 5/31 vs England
India always have a scarcity of genuine pace bowling all-rounders. Now that Bawa has created a reputation for himself at the junior level, his progress in domestic cricket will be closely monitored from hereon. And a possible IPL exposure in the coming season will do his game a world of good.
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