During the celebratory dinner in Antigua after India’s 2022 Under-19 World Cup triumph, Raj Angad Bawa heard someone shouting his name. But he couldn’t figure out what exactly was being said thereafter because of the heavy Caribbean accent, until one of the team staff told him that Curtly Ambrose wanted to have a chat with him.
Ambrose, a man of few words, congratulated the youngster and said, “Don’t lose your pace. You are quick. You can trouble the best in the business with the kind of steep bounce you generate from the good length. Don’t become a line-length bowler. Enjoy the evening.”
“At first, I didn’t understand what he was trying to say. VVS Laxman sir was there with me, and he later explained it to me,” Bawa told The Indian Express.
In the U-19 World Cup final against England, Bawa had taken 5 for 31 and scored a valuable 35 to be adjudged Player of the Match. Seven months later, he has earned his maiden India A call-up for the three-match one-day series against New Zealand A, starting on September 22 in Chennai.
The 19-year-old credits his selection to the 45-day camp he attended at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru.
“I think I got selected because of my performance in the NCA emerging tournament (U-25). We were divided into four teams and my performance both with bat and ball was good. I scored a couple of fifties in the days’ (multi-day) cricket and took 10 wickets in two matches. In the T20s also, I scored a 40-ball 71 in the third match, while batting at No 5. I think it has helped my case,” said Bawa.
Laxman, who heads the NCA, is said to have taken a keen interest in the youngster’s progress. “Even when VVS was travelling with the senior (India) team, he was keeping a close tab on the results of the emerging tournament. The country’s best U-25 cricketers were playing against each other and what impressed VVS the most were Raj’s work ethic and keenness to improve his game,” said an NCA official.
This year has been quite a rollercoaster for Bawa. After anchoring India to their fifth U-19 World Cup title, he was picked by Punjab Kings for Rs 2 crore at the Indian Premier League auction. He got to play only two matches, but the experience of training alongside the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Liam Livingstone, Shikhar Dhawan, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Jonny Bairstow, and Mayank Agarwal has boosted his confidence.
“IPL experience always counts. You get to train with the best Indian and international cricketers. You see how Rabada goes through his bowling or how Livingstone and Bairstow work on their power-hitting. It was an enriching experience,” he said.
Sukhwinder Bawa, who broke the news to his son while he was playing an inter-zonal match at the Sector-16 stadium in Chandigarh, feels that his all-round skills will be tested now.
“It will be a different challenge now. If he is picked for the India A squad, it means he is in the scheme of things. His all-round abilities will be put to the test and he will also get an idea of the areas where he needs to improve,” said Bawa senior.
India A squad for NZ A series: Prithvi Shaw, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Rahul Tripathi, Rajat Patidar, Sanju Samson (captain), KS Bharat (wicket-keeper), Kuldeep Yadav, Shahbaz Ahmed, Rahul Chahar, Tilak Varma, Kuldeep Sen, Shardul Thakur, Umran Malik, Navdeep Saini, Raj Angad Bawa
Raj Bawa’s performance in the NCA emerging tournament
Match 1: 50 & 4/59, 2/16
Match 2: 53 & 3/35, 2/61
Match 1: 30 off 17 balls; 1.1-0-18-0
Match 2: 17 off 8; 3.4-0-36-1
Match 3: 71* off 40; 2-0-26-2