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Kamlesh Nagarkoti: Back from his exile, speedster aims for a fresh start

Photo courtesy: IPL

Kamlesh Nagarkoti’s athleticism has been one of the talking points of this IPL 2020, perhaps because it is very uncommon for a fast bowler to be a livewire on the field. The Knight Riders captain Dinesh Karthik even sees a glimpse of Ravindra Jadeja in his fielding skills, which is a huge complement for a 20-year old uncapped youngster, who is making a comeback on the field, having missed couple of seasons of cricket due to a career-threatening lower-back injury.

A star of India’s unbeaten run in the ICC Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand back in 2018, where he bowled the fasted ball of the competition and uprooted stumps for fun, Nagarkoti was tagged as the next big thing in Indian cricket by the likes of Rahul Dravid, Ian Bishop and Sourav Ganguly. Soon, KKR – a franchise known for backing young talents – spent INR 3.2 crores to pick him in IPL auction.

However, just when it seemed Nagarkoti’s career was on the right track, life took a compelet U-turn for the youngster. He got injured at the nets right before his first IPL game for the Knight Riders and soon sent to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru for rehab.

Bacche ne inn do saal o mai bohut kuchu dekh liya. Jab iska Under-19 teammates India k liye khel rha tha, ye NCA me apana intense rehab me laga tha. Ek teenager k liye ye mentally bohut challenging hota hai. [In these two years the kid has been through a lot. When his Under-19 teammates (Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill) represented India (at the senior level) he was going through his daily routine of intense rehab at the NCA. For a teenager, it can be mentally very challenging]”, says Surender Rathore, the childhood coach and mentor of Nagarkoti over the phone from Jaipur.

It was Rathore, who first unearthed this talented cricketer at a very young age.

Source: Twitter (IPL)

“It has been 13 years as far I can remember. I was at the army cantonment ground to do some coaching where I first saw Kamlesh. He was merely 7-8 years old then, playing tennis ball cricket. I saw this kid diving around fearlessly on a rocky outfield. It was quite fascinating to see someone of that age so much found of fielding.”

Without wasting any time Rathore took Nagarkoti to his academy and introduced him to leather ball cricket. During those days the kid’s father was with the Indian Army and hardly stayed with family because of his duty. Even his older brother was studying in Dehradun. Hence, Rathore soon became a local guardian and a father figure for young Nagarkoti, who, primarily because of his raw pace and accuracy started to climb through the ranks in Rajasthan cricket and ultimately selected for the India Under-19s in 2017.

“Coming from an army family he has always been very disciplined and committed to the job in hand and that’s what impresses me the most. I think because of these virtues, Kamlesh is now back on field within two and a half years [of rehab]. At NCA he followed all the instructions of his physios and trainers very strictly. Remember, Pat Cummins, who had a similar injury, missed six years of cricket. Actually, it is very heartening to see both of them now sharing dressing room in KKR. Kamlesh can learn a lot from his [Cummins’] journey,” explains Rathore.

Talking further about the people who worked behind the scenes during the rehabilitation of Kamlesh, Rathore heaps praises on the people of NCA and its director Rahul Dravid.

“Dravid Sir [Rahul Dravid] deserves a lot of credit for standing by this kid during his tough times. It was because of his recommendation BCCI sent Kamlesh to London to consult with surgeons. At the NCA, he often used to spend time with Kamlesh. Rahul sir used to tell him that missing one or two IPL seasons won’t matter in the long run, the ultimate goal is to play for India and one day he would achieve that.”

Rathore also thanks the KKR management for backing Nagarkoti while he was in exile.

“They have an excellent set-up and management and I would like to thank them for supporting this talented kid during these two years. Though he was not playing but the management always communicated with Kamlesh and me, even during the off seasons. In 2018 when Kamlesh got injured, KKR reached the playoffs and before their important match [against Sunrishers Hyderabad] they asked him to comeback to Kolkata and stay with team. I think such gestures lift the moral of a young cricketer, who was disappointed after missing the season.”

Now, looking ahead it’s time to take a fresh guard for this youngster.

“The tough times which Nagarkoti has been through already in his short career will help him to be more resilient as an individual. In our part of the world along with talent, resilience is also very important to go up the ladder, otherwise one can not deal with the external factors,” says Jaipur-based international cricket commentator Devendra Kumar, who has seen Nagarkoti coming up the ranks since his early days.

“This kid is in the right hands as he has a hard taskmaster coach cum mentor [Surender Rathore] with him who can show him the mirror if needed as well as look after the external factors. Hopefully, the system won’t treat him like it did with Nathu Singh [another talented fast bowler from Rajasthan, who Kumar believes, has been faded away due to various external factors],” Kumar adds further.

Meanwhile, along with his bowling and fielding, Nagarkoti is a handy lower-order batsman as well and we saw a glimpse of it during his debut season (2016-17) for his state, Rajasthan.

Rathore recalls the game for us.

“It was a Vijay Hazare [inter-state 50-over List-A competition] match against Gujarat when he bailed his team out of difficult situation with bat in hand. He scored an unbeaten half-century [56 not out] in that game and reached his milestone with a four off [Jasprit] Bumrah. Kamlesh then came back to take a hat-trick in the second half which helped his team to win the match by a small margin [14 runs to be exact].”

Well, perhaps here is the three-dimensional cricketer which Indian cricket has been looking for. However, for now it is all about investing on his talent and grooming the youngster.

Sandipan Banerjee is a senior cricket journalist with experience stretching across more than a decade. Having founded a number of cricket information resources and prior experience of working in big-ticket events like ICC Cricket World Cup, IPL and ICC Champions’ Trophy; he joined the team at in 2019 to provide strategic guidance and to assume a brand ambassador role as principal correspondent. Due to Sandipan’s commitment towards the game, it’s safe to assume that if India are involved in a Test, ODI or a T20I, he’ll be there covering the match!

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