Before Kolkata Knight Riders took on Sunrisers Hyderabad in Abu Dhabi on 26 September, the last time Shivam Mavi, Shubman Gill and Kamlesh Nagarkoti were part of a playing XI together was in the final of the Under-19 World Cup in January 2018.
This was not a tough statistic to verify. Simply because Nagarkoti has only played two more competitive matches since that win against Australia in Mount Maunganui: for Rajasthan in the 2018 Vijay Hazare Trophy. In the two and half years since, he has been battling injuries and a comeback never materialised. As a teenager, he had the world at its feet. All three of them did.
There is a reason why both Mavi and Nagarkoti cost KKR more at the 2018 auction than Gill (Rs 1.8 crore) did. He might have been the star with the bat at the World Cup that Prithvi Shaw and Co won unbeaten, but Indian pacers are at a premium at these auctions and young guns constantly hitting 140kph+ at the World Cup meant that Mavi (Rs 3 crore) and Nagarkoti (Rs 3.4 crore) were both more sought after.
From the highs experienced in New Zealand, the trio were immediately expected to make an impact at IPL 2018. Even if not consistently, all three were earmarked to play in the tournament together at some point.
It never happened.
Fast forward to the end of Septmeber 2020, on Tuesday in Dubai, not only did the three play together again (for the second time) but went on to perform starring roles in their side’s second win of the IPL season.
The word KKR captain Dinesh Karthik chose in the post-match presentation was apt: emotional.
Steve Smith asked KKR to bat first but Karthik had already planned to do just that in Dubai where the team setting a target had (eventually) won all of the five previous matches in the tournament. KKR are a side that prefers to chase under DK but he wanted his batsmen to have a go at this pitch first and Gill striking form would, no doubt, have played a part in that.
The Punjab batsman had to face a fiery first over from Jofra Archer when the pacer hit 150-plus twice. But Gill did not look flustered. As most good batsmen do when facing serious heat, he took a single and moved to the other end.
It did not take long for him to get going either, with Sunil Narine struggling to connect bat with ball at the other end. Gill hit a few classy boundaries to show he is seeing the ball significantly better than his veteran opening partner; a six down the ground was indeed the highlight.
On a pitch that was not easy to bat, Gill made a 34-ball 47 and top-scored for his side for the second match running.
Watch Gill’s stylish knock:
Then, it was over to the bowlers to defend 174 against a Rajasthan Royals batting lineup brimming with confidence after two 200-plus totals to begin their campaign. But Steve Smith and Co failed to adapt to the conditions from Sharjah to Dubai and paid the price for it. With Pat Cummins applying the pressure early on in the Powerplay, bowling three out of the six overs and returning figures of 1/13, the game was set up nicely for Mavi and Nagarkoti. The former did the most significant damage as he picked up the wickets of Sanju Samson and Jos Buttler, with both of them looking to go after the youngster and paying the price.
And then, after having waited for so long, Nagarkoti had two wickets in one over. And fittingly, Mavi and Gill were part of those moments as they took the catches of Robin Uthappa and Riyan Parag (also part of the U19 team in 2018). It was a nice little coming together of the U19 trio in the space of 15 or so minutes in Dubai that sealed the deal for KKR on the night.
Watch Mavi and Nagarkoti’s wickets:
For Nagarkoti, there was another place in the highlight reel pending: a sensational catch in the deep to live up to the reputation that he is one of the best fielders going around in his age-group. Running in from long on and putting in a full length dive, Nagarkoti took a high catch at a venue that has seen the best of the best put down chances.
Watch Nagarkoti’s superb catch:
Still camera shy and understandably so, Mavi told his captain Karthik in a post-match chat that it felt quite good that the big wickets he got happened by bowling just as per the plans. Nagarkoti, meanwhile, took the chance to again thank Shah Rukh Khan and Venky Mysore of KKR’s management.
“The most important thing for a player is to get to play cricket. It is tough that a player gets selected for IPL. But the KKR management showed so much trust in me. I have not been playing for two years, still, I have been backed. Whenever I was in need of anything, I got it,” Nagarkoti said.
While Gill might have established himself as one of the first names in the XI in the years since the World Cup (and is now seen as part of the leadership group), the journey has been painstaking for both Mavi and Nagarkoti. And, having played two matches together now, the three Indian youngsters are finally doing what they were meant to: win games for KKR. Not just Kolkata fans, but well-wishers of Indian cricket have every right to be chuffed with that.