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In the Zone – North

Young Mayank Dagar eyes success at U-19 World Cup

India’s Under-19 left-arm spinner Mayank Dagar still remembers the net sessions he had, bowling to his uncle Virender Sehwag at the Ferozeshah Kotla a few years back. It was during the school holidays that such net sessions could happen as youngster was studying at the Bishop Cotton School in Shimla. These net sessions and encouragement from Sehwag made Dagar join Shimla Cricket Academy to pursue his dream of becoming a cricketer.

Six years later, Dagar performed well for the India U-19 team in Sri Lanka and emerged as the joint highest wicket-taker along with K Ahmed in the Tri Nation tournament with seven wickets in his kitty. This performance also sealed Dagar’s place for India U-19 ICC World Cup team that will compete in Bangladesh in January 2016.

Born in Delhi, Dagar chose to play for Himachal Pradesh while he studied at the Shimla-based school. He did well in the U-16 Vijay Merchant Trophy and U-19 Cooch Behar Trophy, where he stood out for his bowling skills. Based on the performances, he was then drafted in to the India U-19 team for a triangular series in Kolkata.

“It was like a dream come true for me when I first got selected in the India U-19 team. Then it was overwhelming to have Rahul Dravid as a coach. It was my first major break. I was thrilled as well as nervous,” said Dagar.

He picked five wickets in the three matches he played in the quadrangular series in Kolkata besides the seven wickets in the tournament in Sri Lanka. With the wickets in Bangladesh likely to assist spinners, Dagar would play an important role for his team. 
Dagar’s father, Jitender Dagar played cricket for Delhi University and wanted his son also to become a cricketer. So it was natural for his son to pick up the sport. His mother is former India cricketer Virender Sehwag’s cousin.

"I really look upto Viru uncle. He along with my father has been my inspiration. Both have encouraged me to follow my dreams. I do discuss my game with Viru uncle whenever he is free. I hope to do well in the World Cup and help the team win,” shared Dagar, who idolises New Zealand’s Daniel Vettori and Virender Sehwag. 

Dagar is coached by Yogender Puri and Anuj Pal Dass back in Shimla where he is a class XII student at Laureate Public School.

Pacer Sandeep Sharma undergoing rehab at NCA

Punjab pacer Sandeep Sharma, who underwent surgery for his injured right shoulder in October, is undergoing rehabilitation and strengthening at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru for five weeks now. The 22-year-old pacer from Patiala is under the supervision of former Indian physiotherapist Andrew Leipus and hopes to start bowling in January. 

Sandeep, Punjab’s frontline fast bowler had to miss the domestic season so far due to the injury. The pacer missed the season’s action at a time when Punjab qualified for the Ranji Trophy 2015-16 knock-outs and made it to the quarter-finals in the Vijay Hazare Trophy 2015-16.

Speaking about missing the season so far, he said, “It gets irritating when you really want to play for your team and contribute, but you cannot.

The season could have been crucial for me. I could have made my case strong for Indian team's selection for Australia and also the World T20.

The Punjab teammates have been keeping in touch with me over the phone and keep motivating me. I want to just concentrate on my recovery and get back to bowling in January. I want to be fit ahead of the Indian Premier League (IPL) season nine,” said Sharma, one of the finds for Kings XI Punjab in IPL 2014 after having finished as their leading wicket-taker. Earlier, he had missed India ‘A’ tour to Australia and the Champions League T20 in 2014 due to a stress fracture in his back.

Sandeep rose to glory after his two U-19 World Cup appearances for India. He was drafted in the Punjab Ranji Trophy team in 2011. Since his debut against Uttar Pradesh, he has been successful for Punjab and along with pacer Siddharth Kaul has been the team’s strength in the bowling department for four seasons.

“I am confident of my recovery and also of the fact that I would be fitter than before when I take on the field. My rehab is going well and I am focusing on my target. I got the surgery done at the right time; otherwise I would have struggled more and would have been sitting at home for a longer period. I will be fresh and raring to go once I have recovered and regained fitness,” shared Sandeep, who made his India T20 debut against Zimbabwe in July this year. He went under the knife on October 23 in Mumbai just a week before the Ranji Trophy kicked-off.

Sandeep has played in 27 first-class matches and scalped 111 dismissals. He played his last match for India ‘A’ before the surgery against Australia ‘A’ in Chennai.

Siddharth Kaul, a mentor for other Punjab bowlers

Punjab’s hopes crashed in Vijay Hazare Trophy 2015-16 as they lost to Himachal Pradesh in the knock-out match played in Bengaluru, but pacer Siddharth Kaul’s spell allowed them a glimmer of hope. His opening spell yielded two quick wickets, as he knocked out openers Ankush Bains and Prashant Chopra in no time, putting HP on backfoot in reply to Punjab’s score of 263 runs. Then again Kaul stuck in the next spell removing in-form Rishi Dhawan. But his spell three for 42 went in vain as they lost the quarter-final match.

“It was disappointing to lose the match, but credit goes to the HP team. We had been playing well in the Ranji Trophy and in the Vijay Hazare Trophy with full strength, it was not our day,” said the 25-year-old, who had been Punjab’s frontline bowler in absence of the injured Sandeep Sharma. Siddharth had a good season with the ball as he bagged 15 wickets in the league phase of Ranji Trophy 2015-16 and 19 scalps in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.

Losing bowling partner Sandeep, meant Siddharth had to shoulder the responsibility of Punjab’s pace bowling department. Pacers - Barinder Sran and Deepak Bansal shared the new ball with Kaul for Punjab. “Sandy and I are like the best combination. He knows my bowling and I know his. We complemented each other quite well. Yuvi Paaji (Yuvraj Singh) and Bhajji Paaji (Harbhajan Singh) told me at the start of the season that being a seasoned and more experienced fast bowler, I should be helping others out in the bowling department. And it went well.

Sran being a left-arm bowler complemented me well. When we were bowling in tandem, we got lot of wickets and the left and right-hand bowling combo did the trick,” shared Kaul, who is now eyeing success in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament followed by Ranji Trophy knock-outs.

Siddharth, like elder brother Uday Kaul comes from their cricketer father Dr. Tej Pal Kaul’s cricket nursery. Having played 35 first-class matches and taken 112 wickets, Kaul has come a long way. He made his Ranji Trophy debut in 2007 against Odisha. In the same year he was part of the India U-19 team that clinched the World Cup in Malaysia. Currently attached with Hyderabad Sunrisers in IPL, Kaul wants to make most of the remaining season and strengthen his case for India ‘A’ team.

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In the zone – South

Rohan Prem, a new beginning

At various stages, Kerala raised visions of entering the knockout phase of Ranji Trophy 2015-16, but a loss to Himachal Pradesh dashed their hopes in the last minute. But even amidst that collective disappointment, the personal effort of Rohan Prem would have come as a massive relief, a ray of hope for the upcoming assignments.

Of course, Rohan is not a new name for those who followed Kerala cricket. He made his Ranji debut 10 seasons back as an 18-year-old with a lot of promise. In those 10 summers, Rohan has achieved some fine feats for Kerala like entering the 3000-run club and becoming the leading century-maker for the state with nine hundreds. Three of those came this season alone. He scored over 700 runs at a shade over 58 to feature among the top 10 run-getters at this stage. His form has been instrumental in Kerala’s charge despite a string of low scores by skipper Sanju V Samson. But more than those impressive numbers, the consistency that Rohan showed throughout the season has been more remarkable.

Rohan was also quite chuffed at that. “I am quite happy to contribute in my own way to the team’s success and performance. Hopefully, I can keep this form for a long time,” he said. Rohan said the pre-season training and minor technical tweaks in his game helped him achieve consistency.

The state selectors too kept a note of Rohan’s performance. When Sanju opted out of captaincy to concentrate more on his batting, the bigwigs did not have to search beyond the left-hander. They entrusted Rohan with the leadership of the team in the longer format. 

He also dusted off the off-spin this season, and his four for 44 against Services played a big role in Kerala gaining the first-innings lead. “I am quite happy to contribute with the ball too. I am working on my bowling now, and hopefully, I can bowl longer spells in the coming days,” he added.

Nikin Jose, eyeing a bright future 

There have been several thousands of youngsters in India who want to make it big in cricket. Some realise their ambitions, and some other fail to make the cut. Nikin Jose is one of those youngsters, who has made the right beginning. The 15-year-old has been in contention for a berth in the India Under-19 squad recently but he will have to wait some more time to earn a national cap. However, Nikin has ample time to convert his dreams into a reality.

Nikin, a hard-hitting batsman and a handy off-spinner, has left his indelible mark in the Under-14, Under-16 and Under-19 tournaments, besides, churning out some impressive efforts in the Karnataka Premier League (KPL) for Mysore Warriors.

“I need to keep working on my technique, so that I can play in all formats. During the KPL, I got a chance to interact with senior players like C M Gautam and Manish Pandey which was very useful for me as I learned a lot about their preparations and the challenges they need to tackle at a higher level,” said Nikin.

RX Muralidhar, the Warriors’ coach, too predicted a bright future for Nikin. “Nikin has good skill sets and he is mentally strong than a normally 15-year-old kid. He has good situational awareness too for such a youngster,” he said. 

Nikin has showed his leadership qualities as well. He had led Karnataka to win in the Vijay Merchant Trophy (South Zone), and the right-hander scored 461 runs in that tournament. He also has been a part of Karnataka under-19 team for the inter-zonal Vinoo Mankad (South Zone) Trophy. Perhaps, they are just the first steps before grabbing some bigger feats.

The never-dying spirit

Cricket has touched the lives of people across the age barrier in different ways. The C Pitchaiah Memorial Veteran Cricket tournament in Andhra was one such occasion. Four teams from different parts of Andhra and Telengana participated in this tournament, where bonhomie was more important than the end result.

Teams were mostly comprised of sexagenarians who assembled from various parts of the two states, and this was the second edition of the tournament. Many of the participants have taken a temporary break from their professions such as doctor, banker, businessmen, industrialist etc to participate in the event, and soak in the thrill of cricket. Some had played league cricket in their younger days as well. 

C Arun Kumar, one of the players and an organiser, said they have travelled to various countries for veteran tournaments and more trips to Sri Lanka, Australia and Singapore have been mooted. For these veterans, the journey has just begun.
Inter-collegiate cricket

The 14th South Indian Inter-collegiate T20 cricket tournament will be held from January 4 to 12, 2016 at Warangal. 54 teams from across the South Indian colleges will take part in the event that will feature as many as 810 players. The Hyderabad Cricket Association has sanctioned the event and will provide 20 umpires for the tournament.

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