With bat or ball, Raj Bawa is always in the game

Bawa was the star of the show against England in the final (Pic Credits: India Today)
Bawa was the star of the show against England in the final (Pic Credits: India Today)

5th February, 2022, Raj Bawa has already seen Ravi Kumar pick up a brace of wickets when he marks out his run-up to bowl the 7th over. Bawa, who hasn’t operated with the new ball much, is suddenly asked to fulfil a similar role, with Rajvardhan Hangargekar unable to hit his straps.

Given the larger narrative, Bawa should’ve been nervous. He should have been twitching, looking anxiously at the batter at the other end and hoping that he will be able to deliver what his captain asked of him. But he isn’t. He hardly flinches, to be honest. And when he bowls his first over, it becomes abundantly clear why he is so level-headed.

He produces the ideal first over. He hits his lengths instantly and doesn’t allow the batters to get away. Prior to his arrival, George Thomas had been feasting on the loose deliveries Hangargekar was offering. Now, he had to bide his time and wait for the opportunities to present themselves.

After five balls of the seventh over, Thomas loses patience. He fiddles at a delivery he could’ve left alone and gets a thick outside edge. Unfortunately for India, Kaushal Tambe spurns the chance at first slip. The pacer, as expected, is disappointed. He doesn’t shrug his shoulders and make a big deal of it though. Instead, he maintains equanimity and prepares himself for having another tilt at England.

Raj Bawa picked up a stunning five-wicket haul in the final

A couple of overs later, his unerring accuracy is rewarded when Thomas loses patience (again) and swipes across the line. This time, Yash Dhull completes the catch at extra cover and sends Bawa into delirium.

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This scalp, by the way, wasn’t achieved because the ball seamed or swung around corners. It came about only because Bawa kept plugging away at what batters call an uncomfortable line and length.

He had the option of mixing things up and probably go searching for the wicket, especially after the dropped chance. But he didn’t. He stuck to his strengths and displayed clarity that you often associate with seasoned professionals.

The wicket of Thomas, though, was just the appetizer. Bawa then accounted for William Luxton in the 13th over – this time, forcing the Englishman to have a waft at a delivery he should’ve controlled. A ball later, Bawa portrayed his entire repertoire as he got the ball to rear up awkwardly off a length, meaning that George Bell, who had just come to the crease, had no option but to walk back to the pavilion.

James Rew top-scored for England with a fighting 95 as India bowled them out for 189.What are your predictions? 👀#U19CWC | #ENGvIND |

In the 17th over, he also accounted for Rehan Ahmed and completed his five-wicket haul by dismissing Joshua Boyden (45th over). He also became only the second bowler in the history of the tournament to bag a five-wicket haul in the summit clash.

A few hours later, Bawa was thrust into another tricky position – this time with the bat. India had hunted down a major chunk of England’s total but were still a fair distance away from getting across the line.

With Bawa and Nishant Sindhu at the crease, they were optimistic but funnier things had happened in finals before, meaning that the pressure, which had seemingly been eased when Shaik Rasheed and Yash Dhull were at the crease, was amped up.

Bawa, much like he did with the ball, didn’t get overawed by the occasion. He took his time at the start and then produced a couple of decisive blows – blows that knocked the stuffing out of England and told them, rather unabashedly, that they had no business making a match out of this situation.

Those who only watched the final would’ve been taken aback by Bawa’s brilliance. Those with a keener eye, though, would’ve been quick to quip that this has become the norm for a cricketer who has shown throughout this tournament that his upper ceiling is quite high.

Apart from his dexterous display in the final, the all-rounder has been a regular contributor for the Indian U-19 team. In an earlier fixture against Uganda, he smashed 162*, registering the highest score any Indian has managed at the U-19 World Cup. Ever.

He also kept chipping away at the wickets. While none were as headline-worthy as what he did against England, they were still crucial scalps accumulated at vital junctures.

Most tellingly, though, Bawa illustrated that he could handle pressure – a virtue that isn’t very ubiquitous and one you would normally not expect an U-19 cricketer to boast. Not only did he stand strong in the face of adversity, he almost always found a way to overcome it.

At the moment, he seems as consistent as any U-19 bowler going around and his boundary-hitting, at the cost of sounding rhetorical, is very pleasing to the eye. He has a natural bat swing and while that may land him in trouble when playing through the off-side, it seems pure enough to capitalize on whatever scoring opportunities he gets.

Raj Bawa could quite possibly be that seam bowling all rounder #India have been craving for years .. #U19CWC

There is plenty of talent. He, like almost all top cricketers, finds a way to always be in the game. He also flies under the radar at times and that allows him to not be too extravagant but always be efficient.

So much so that a lot of the Indian cricketing community has started visualizing him as a potential all-rounder for the senior team too. There isn’t a lot wrong in it, considering he ticks most boxes India are looking for. But at 19 years of age, he shouldn’t be cast into the limelight too soon or thrown into the deep end before he has developed fully.

Bawa’s time with the senior Indian side, especially if he continues charting a similar trajectory, will inevitably arrive. A healthy IPL contract might not be very far away either.

However, that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate what was one of the greatest all-round performances the U-19 World Cup has ever seen. That it came when the stakes were at its crest, tells you all you need to know about a cricketer who might become a household name before too long.

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Edited by Prasen Moudgal
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