On Thursday, when India’s U-19 team for the upcoming tour of Sri Lanka was announced, the selection of Sachin Tendulkar’s son Arjun made headlines. However, in the midst of this brouhaha, another promising teenager, too, has made the cut for the Lankan sojourn. Anuj Rawat, Delhi’s 18-year-old wicket-keeper batsman, who has been making waves in recent times with his impressive stroke-play and resourceful keeping, was named captain for the four-day leg of the tour, scheduled next month.
Back in September last year, Rawat was largely anonymous, even in the Delhi circles. The story goes that in the run-up to the last Ranji season, Delhi’s selectors were desperately in search of a reserve wicket-keeper batsman who could serve as Rishabh Pant’s replacement, when he was away on international assignments. The selection panel had zeroed in on a couple of names, but they were not confident about their batting abilities. That’s when someone from the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru tipped off Atul Wassan, Delhi’s chief selector about Rawat.
“Badiya ladka hain. Isko dekh lo,” is what the person in question told Wassan. This intrigued the chief selector. He immediately summoned Rawat to the Feroz Shah Kotla for trials, and two weeks later, was included in the Ranji team. “To be honest, I didn’t know him at first. When someone from the NCA told me about him, I called him for trials. And I was impressed by what I saw. There was something about him that I find it hard to express. He had certain energy about him…kind of X-factor. Despite being inexperienced, we (the selection panel) went by our gut feeling and decided to include him in the Ranji squad last year,” Wassan explained.
When incumbent Rishabh Pant was selected for India ‘A’ — which played the touring New Zealanders in October 2017 — Rawat took his spot. It was a tad ironical to see one Uttarakhandi being replaced by another in Delhi’s Ranji squad. Pant is from Roorkie, while Rawat hails from the hilly terrains of Ramnagar, a mofussil town situated in Nainital district. Like Pant, Rawat too made the seamless shift to the dusty terrains in the national capital to try his hand at cricket.
“I grew up in a small village called Ramnagar. We hardly had facilities for cricket. So, at the age of 11, I came to Delhi and got myself enrolled in Raj Kumar Sharma’s academy in Paschim Vihar, West Delhi,” Rawat quipped.
Little more than seven years later, Rawat was primed to make his Ranji debut at the Feroz Shah Kotla against Assam.
Batting at No.7, he scored a fluent 71 on debut, and then followed it up with another half-century in the subsequent game against the Railways. When Pant returned to the fold, Rawat had to vacate the spot. In the interim, as Delhi made their ascent to the Ranji knock-outs, Rawat boarded the flight to Kuala Lumpur to represent India’s U-19 squad for the Youth Asia Cup. When he returned, Delhi’s team management asked him to open with Gautam Gambhir on an up-and-down Palam track, against Maharashtra.
He featured in three Ranji games, but on all three occasions, he gave ample evidence of his burgeoning talent. “Playing Ranji cricket has been my dream, and getting to play alongside Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma has helped me enormously,” was how Rawat responded when asked about his initiation into first-class cricket.
Seeing his rise, Wassan said he and rest of the selectors stand vindicated. “He is a player for the future. We gave him an opportunity, and he responded admirably. The thing about Anuj is that he gives you the flexibility because he can bat anywhere in the order.”
Going forward, Wassan reckoned that elevating Rawat as captain of the U-19 team in Sri Lanka would add another dimension to him as a player. “I’m really excited to see him being appointed as the captain. I believe this will add another dimension to his game. Believe me, he will be more matured after this tour,” he added.
Rawat, on his part, said he is relishing the prospect of leading the national team against Sri Lanka. He will not be altogether in an unfamiliar position as a captain though as he has been leading the North Zone in the recently concluded tournament. “I have been leading North Zone, so captaincy is not something that’s new to me. Having said that, leading a national team overseas will be a different challenge altogether. I am in reasonably good frame of mind, having scored a double century in this tournament,” he concluded.
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