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IPL 2020: Young Knights Shivam Mavi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti finally up to speed – cricket

But for the pandemic, it would have been the third successive Indian Premier League (IPL) season for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) without young fast bowlers Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti. When the franchise invested Rs 6.2 crore on them in January 2018, they were teens who had exploded in the Under-19 World Cup. Since then, the journey has been so fraught with injuries that cricket, at best, was an interruption.

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After a good debut at Eden Gardens where his first wicket was former KKR captain Gautam Gambhir, Mavi played eight games in 2018 and missed IPL 2019. Three seasons with KKR, Nagarkoti is yet to pull on the purple shirt because he hasn’t played competitive cricket since February 2018. That could finally change in the UAE where KKR begin on September 23 against defending champions Mumbai Indians.

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“If I get a game, I will tell myself that I am realising a dream. Now I feel like I can handle anything,” says Nagarkoti. “With three-four days to go, I am at almost 100 percent,” says Mavi.

“Nagarkoti has become very strong. They are both bowling at over 140(kmph) and that is challenging for any batsmen,” says KKR batsman Nitish Rana.

In separate interviews to Hindustan Times from Abu Dhabi where KKR are based, Mavi and Nagarkoti spoke on the importance of staying positive and how the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru was a home away from home. It was at NCA that they mended stress fractures and back injuries. They are occupational hazards of being a quick; Mavi and Nagarkoti’s breakdowns possibly compounded by the fact their bodies weren’t fully mature for such rigour.

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“NCA is a great place for rehab. They give you a clear schedule so you know when you have a gym session and when you need to go for a run. Also, good physios are hard to find in India but at NCA they have so many good physios that you get a positive buzz,” says Mavi.

It was at NCA, Nagarkoti met Varun Aaron, the Jharkhand and Rajasthan Royals fast bowler who has played nine Tests and nine One-day Internationals. “He (Aaron) said he too had a lot of problems with his back and had to remodel his action and get stronger. And Rahul Dravid would speak from time to time. He would tell me that the more positive you are, the more you think of cricket the better you will be. Work as hard as you can to ensure that you don’t have to go through such times again,” says Nagarkoti. Dravid, head of cricket at NCA, was the under-19 coach in the 2018 World Cup which India won.

Dravid had also told Nagarkoti about Pat Cummins’ struggle with injuries before becoming the world’s No.1 Test bowler. Cummins will be a teammate and Nagarkoti has said injury-management would be a big part of their conversation.

Nagarkoti also draws inspiration from Ashish Nehra’s long-drawn battle with injuries in an international career that spanned nearly 9 years. “He kept coming back, his last comeback after so many years was a great achievement,” says Nagarkoti referring to Nehra, then almost 37, returning to the India T20 team in 2016 after five years. “He (Nehra) always tells me if you are a pace bowler, you will have to deal with some problem or the other. How you handle it, how you get stronger is entirely up to you. He has inspired me to get stronger.”

Back after long spells of no cricket – Mavi’s hasn’t played after his back played up in December 2019 – KKR’s Kiwi bowling coach Kyle Mills eased them into nets in the UAE last month. Mills, says Mavi, has been good “because he has a lot of international experience and clear answers to everything we ask at nets.” Mavi says Mills also gives a lot of options and letting the bowler choose what is best at nets.

That the wickets would tire and aid spinners going deeper into the tournament has been a recurrent theme ahead of IPL13. On Thursday, Mumbai Indians’ skipper Rohit Sharma referred to the Asia Cup in 2018 where “there was a lot of difference between the wicket in the first game and the final.” Sharma also spoke about the need to adjust the length and said some reverse swing would happen.

Mavi, 21, accepts the strips wouldn’t be pacer-friendly like Eden which has led to KKR investing in young Indians fast bowlers – Nagarkoti is 20 and Prasidh Krishna 24 – but says it won’t be too different from playing in Delhi where it is dry. “At practice, we have got used to that somewhat. After a couple of games, we will be used completely. It won’t be as if we are going to play in England.”

For the first time since they were signed as cubs, Shubman Gill, Mavi and Nagarkoti are available for KKR. Mavi and he talk a lot about workload and if the “body is feeling tight,” says Nagarkoti. “For India under-19, we had a good partnership,” says Mavi. Both took nine wickets in six games in the World Cup where Gill finished with 372 runs and Tom Banton, who joined KKR this season, 233.

In the time they repaired their bodies, Gill established himself as a top-order batsman with four half-centuries in 27 games over two seasons. Banton too has caught the eye in the Big Bash and for England. Mavi and Nagarkoti know they have some catching up to do.

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