Nineteen-year-old Raj Bawa could well be the seam bowling all-rounder India is craving for all these years.
On Saturday night, the left-hand batter and right-arm pacer once again showed he has the potential to rise up the ranks quickly and make a place in the India side in the near future with a crucial 35 and superb bowling figures of 5/31 in the Under-19 ICC Cricket World Cup final as India defeated England by four wickets at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.
Bawa thus ended the U-19 World Cup as one of the leading all-rounders at the tournament and ‘Player of the Match’ in the final itself, emerging as one of just eight batters to pass 250 runs, while also picking up nine wickets in the campaign.
An enormous unbeaten 162 against Uganda in the group stage was as good an innings as any at the tournament. But such was the quality of India’s batting line-up through the knockout stages Bawa wasn’t needed much more than that, with his handy 35 in the final helping make the run-chase against England comfortable.
Bawa has all the arsenal in his armoury to make it to the Indian side and the heartening thing in the team’s campaign at the U-19 World Cup was his nine wickets which came against high-quality opposition.
South Africa were expected to throw the biggest challenge in the group stage, and Bawa’s 4/47 in that match played a significant part in the now five-time champions’ victory.
And his five-wicket haul in the U-19 World Cup final on Saturday was the first time any Indian player has achieved that feat in eight matches. To put Bawa’s brilliant show into perspective, only one India U-19 player in history had previously taken a five-for and hit in excess of 150 at any ICC event, and that player was the legendary ICC Cricket Hall of Fame inductee Kapil Dev.
For the record, Bawa had a score of 13 with the bat and superb bowling figures of 4/47 against South Africa. Against Ireland in the group stage, the left-hand batter scored 42, while bowling an economical spell without taking a wicket. Against Uganda in the third and final group game, Bawa was peerless, smashing an unbeaten 162.
And while he went wicket-less in the quarterfinal against Bangladesh and the semifinal against Australia, and failed with the bat, Bawa gave little indication that he was itching for a go against England in the final. The 5/31 virtually smashed the England batting and restricting them to 189 in 44.5 overs.
Bawa said he had learnt all the cricketing skills from his father.
“My father is my coach. Everything I’ve learnt in cricket is down to him. He’s been a major influence on my development. My father told me this long ago, he said that ‘being a good human being is more important than being a good cricketer’. I have always kept that in mind,” Bawa told ICC.
“He 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.”
Bawa said he likes batting as it pits two against 11 fielders.
“I like batting, because in batting it’s two against 11. I like the pressure of the competition and the responsibility to perform for the team. 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.
“Our team performs like a well-knit unit. Nobody plays for individual goals. Everybody’s playing as a team, so it is our strength.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan was all praise for Bawa and so was Ireland’s cricketer-turned-commentator Niall O’Brien.
“I think he’s an absolute cracker, his unbeaten 150-odd against Uganda was top class. You come out of India to these tournaments and there’s so much hype around you. People say he plays a lot like Shikhar Dhawan. I think this Bawa is a batter, but he’s also a very good bowler. So I think he’s someone who’s going to play for India in the very near future. He’s a very good player on the leg side, loves a pick-up pull shot, clean striker, good hitter of the ball, and he can bowl and I love left-handers,” said O’Brien.
Vaughan said India had probably found a seam bowling all-rounder in Bawa. “Raj Bawa could quite possibly be that seam bowling all-rounder #India have been craving for years .. #U19CWC,” the legendary England cricketer tweeted.
Former England first-class cricketer Alan Wilkins said, “It’s hard to look past Raj Bawa. He’s got all the shots, he looks in command; nothing worries him or seems to ruffle his feathers. He plays the ball into gaps, he knows where they are, he’s almost like a draftsman, an architect, he knows where they are and pierces gaps and creates this lovely mosaic.”