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PLAY THE FIELD
Two unknown bowlers, Jasprit Bumrah and Rahul Shukla, hailing from cricketing backwaters, created an immediate impact in the opening week of the IPL
The Crest Edition
THE TIMES OF INDIA
BOOM, BOOM BUMRAH!
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
In Pune, a Mizo sniper calls the shots
At 19, William Lalnunfela is arguably India’s hottest junior footballer. Top-scorer in the under-20 I-League for the second year running, the Pune FC striker says he scores all those goals so that he can give his parents a good life in their old age
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
hen Jasprit Bumrah bowled his first delivery in this IPL, he was a little off the mark. Virat Kohli was in front of him, and he bowled the next three deliveries with unsettled nerves. Bumrah was taken to the cleaners but after conceding three boundaries in the first four balls, he brought one back in sharply and trapped Kohli right in front. That was it. After that he kept ‘His Majesty’ Chris Gayle quiet and bagged two more wickets on that day. Suddenly, everybody was talking about this slightly built boy, who with an awkward, open-chested bowling action had taken the cricketing world by surprise. But people who have seen him from close for the past two years knew that Bumrah, if not anything, had pace. Playing for Gujarat in the U-19 category, he was making waves during the Cooch Behar Trophy in the 2011-12 season when an excited Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) official called up the local media and asked them to have a look at the youngster. Rajeev Desai, who was Gujarat’s under-19 coach during that period recalls: “This boy was quick and when I say quick, I really mean it. If someone can bowl at close to 140kmph at 18, he has to be a special talent. That most of his victims are either bowled or caught behind the wicket is proof that he has pace. He also can move the ball both ways but his incoming delivery is his best weapon. “He has a very slow run-up, bowls with an awkward action but is very quick in the air. Many batsmen have fallen prey to this,” says Desai, adding, “He is a wickettaker. No matter the amount of runs he gives, he will also give you those important wickets when he bowls upfront.” A second-year student of HK Commerce College in Ahmedabad, Jasprit is a little deceptive as far as his run up or open-chested action is concerned because he doesn't look like the conventional fast bowler in the true sense. “He is about 5’11, doesn’t have a long run-up or does not possesses a big leap or anything of that sort but he uses his wrist to good effect,” says Kishore Trivedi, father of Saurashtra and Rajasthan Royals seamer Siddharth Trivedi and Bumrah’s coach at the Nirman High School Cricket Coaching Centre. “When I first saw him, I wanted to do few things with his action and run-up but he is naturally so talented that I decided to leave him alone,” says Trivedi, adding, “And
as I can see, he was doing nothing wrong. His arms remain straight in the swing and during delivery time there are many bowlers in the world who have unorthodox actions but Jasprit is fast and accurate, so what more do you want.” The coach adds that Bumrah only started taking the game seriously after he attended a summer camp when he was in Class X. “It comes very naturally to me so I find no difficulty in bowling the way I do,” says Bumrah. “He started playing at a very young age and would love all aspects of the game but then his interest in bowling began to develop when he began understanding the nuances of the game. We always knew the action and the pace was different than normal bowlers of his age but you never know what the future held so we backed him in every way we could,” says his sister Juhika Bumrah. Juhika and mother Daljit, primary section principal at Nirman High School in Ahmedabad, are the pillars in Jasprit’s life after the death of his father some years ago. “Jasprit is very high on self-belief. It doesn’t matter if he gets whacked but he always believes in his ability to come back and take wickets,” says his Gujarat U-19 roommate Chintan Gajja who has spent a considerable time on and off the field with the new pace sensation. It was perhaps this self belief that helped Bumrah come back and take the wicket of Kohli after being thrashed for three boundaries off his first four balls on his IPL debut. It was former India coach John Wright who first spotted Bumrah and pitchforked him into the Mumbai Indians squad. “Mumbai Indians coach John Wright was talent scouting in Ahmedabad during the West Zone T20s and he was highly impressed with Bumrah,” reveals an MI insider. “I knew Mr Wright was watching but that was never on my mind. I just played my natural game. And though I didn't pick too many wickets, I bowled pretty well at the death,” says the boy who touched 140 kmph during a camp at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore. Gujarat captain Parthiv Patel also thinks that Bumrah is a different bowler who has a bright future ahead of him. “He is pretty young but he is quick, has good variety and bowls good yorkers. Bowling tight at the death has been his specialty and he has done that pretty well for us,” says Patel. All the sudden attention has not distracted the bowler. Juhika is confident that Jasprit will not change much because “he is a very grounded person”. Grounded or not, if he keeps bowling the way he does, his cricketing career is surely going to soar high.
IN WITH A SHOUT! With his unusual open-chested action, Bumrah can trouble the batsmen with the delivery that comes in
e is coy, soft spoken and often struggles with words to express himself. But put him on a football field — the rival penalty area, to be precise — and William Lalnunfela’s boots do all the talking. As top scorer in the recently concluded under-20 I-League, which his team Pune FC won for the second season running, the nineteen-year-old junior footballer from Mizoram is drafting an impressive CV for himself. At Pune FC for two seasons now, the lanky striker from Mizoram has scored seven times this season. This adds to his feat of last season where he had top-scored for PFC. But Lalnunfela is not swayed by his laurels. He knows well that the journey has just begun and the road ahead is tough. Born to a family of carpenters in Kolasib, a small town in Mizoram, Lalnunfela was like any other youngster in his neighbourhood. He took to playing football, the most popular sport of the area at the age of twelve. But it could have been a totally different story. Lalnunfela actually started off as a keeper for a couple of matches, a position which he disliked and in a fit of pique, decided to play as striker. He turned out for local club Pui Pui for two seasons and his capabilities in the frontline won him a berth in Vengthar VC, the under-16 village team. It was during the Red Ribbon inter-village football tournament that he was noticed by Pune FC talent scouts and was among the lucky three selected from Mizoram for advanced training at Pune FC with the under-19 team. Former Tata Football Academy head coach Ranjan Chowdhury, and currently head of youth development at Pune FC, who spotted Lalnunfela as a 17-year-old in Mizoram is optimistic. “He is certainly a very talented player. Though he started out late in a span of two years at Pune FC he has become very popular in Indian football. He is a hardworking boy and I am confident that very soon he will play for a big club in India,” says Chowdhury. “He has a good build and as striker he has a great sense of goalscoring and knows how to create space for himself. Besides he has great temperament. All he needs is to improve on the clincial side,” says the astute Chowdhury. Chirag Tanna, head operations at Pune FC, also
SITTING PRETTY: Lalnunfela’s heart may beat for Pune FC, but is open to playing at other clubs on loan
acknowledges the youngster's talent. “It isn’t often that you have someone as the top scorer in the U-20 I-League for two years straight. William is a talented young player, and we hope that he can replicate what he has done with the junior team with the senior team,” says the official. “The transition to the senior team is not an easy one but if he continues to work hard there is no reason why he cannot have a long and successful career with Pune FC,” says Tanna. On whether he could be loaned out, Tanna isn’t sure yet. “If we need to loan him out, we will discuss this with him, the coach and the player,” he adds. Lalnunfela’s onfield strengths are his speedy movements and the knack to create space for himself to set up goal-scoring opportunities. Nevertheless, he admits to his shortcomings: “I need to improve upon my finishing as well,” he says with a coy look. Lalnunfela knows it’s a hard road ahead to achieve his long term goal — play for India. And for this he’s gladly willing to go through the grind. Even if it means two strenuous training sessions in a single day. “I definitely want to play for India some day. That’s my aim. I know I need to work hard for that but I know I can make it,” he says, suddenly perking up. William is impressed by the training techniques at
Pune FC which have helped him greatly during his twoyear stay here. “I have learned a lot of things here at Pune FC. The facilities are good too,” he says. And this has only hardened Lalnunfela’s stance of becoming a professional footballer even if it means sacrificing his education midway, something which he was serious about not too long ago. He has just completed his twelfth standard in Mizoram and looking at the options ahead he appears set to steer away from further education and towards full commitment to football. “I have just finished my twelfth standard but now I don't think I will pursue further education,” he admits shyly . This decision also stems from the fact that his contract was just renewed for a period of five years with Pune FC and the club intends to loan out its top U-19 players to various clubs. This means that William may not have time for further education if he has to shift to a new club in a different city. Like most footballers with a nose for goal, Lalnunfela adores Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo and like most footballers from his state, he is a big admirer of statemate Shylo ‘Mama’ Malswamtulunga. Currently with Prayag, midfielder Mama is revered by most footballers from the tiny, hill state, since it was his decade-long spell
with the top Indian clubs that opened the gates for other youngsters from Mizoram. “He moves so fast and his skills are great,” says Lalnunfela of Malswamtulunga. A fan of country music, Lalnunfela is ready is to play for another club on loan but his loyalties remain embedded at Pune FC. “I am ready to play for another club now. It’s a challenge and I accept it. But some day I want to play for Pune FC in the senior I-League,” he says, before adding that he would also like to find himself in the Mohun Bagan line-up someday, a team which he has greatly admired from his childhood days. He admits that he misses home sometimes and does speak to his parents regularly on phone. But during match days he does not call them before the match. “I want to concentrate before the match so I call them only after the match to tell them the result, even if we lose,” he says. William may not have started signing fat contracts yet but he hopes that soon through his career he can make his family happy. His father is a carpenter and mother a housewife, and both are past 50, so Lalnunfela is hoping that success at football will help him take care of them as they grow older. “I want to make them happy and take care of them in old age. That’s the most important thing. It's the reason why I score those goals,” he says.
Not just any face in the crowd
Spurred by success that Dhoni has tasted, Jharkhand’s Rahul Shukla decided the fastest way to the top was by bowling fast. It helped that he found a mentor in Dravid
TIMES NEWS NETWORK ahul Shukla is a common name, but it isn’t one you would have often heard in cricketing circles. In fact, it would come as a surprise if you had heard about him before last week. That’s when this stocky youngster from Jharkhand, currently playing for Rajasthan Royals, rocked Kolkata Knight Riders’ boat by dismissing their ‘Mr Dependable’ Jacques Kallis for a duck. Kallis perhaps would have comfortably negotiated Shaun Tait. However, the South African legend surely did not bargain for this unknown quantity to hurl down a delivery at almost the speed of Tait. Shukla touched the 146 kmph mark and celebrated as if he had the world in his pocket. And why not? After all, it is not every day that you send back someone like Kallis at the blink of an eye. Shukla said later that he stuck to the plan of bowling at Kallis’ body and delivering it fast. He stuck to what he had been told at the team meeting and history is witness that the man considered to be the best all-rounder of his time, was caught off-guard. “In Rajasthan Royals, we groom talent and Rahul Shukla is one of the players we are focusing on,” skipper Rahul Dravid had said before the tournament. During the practice sessions, the skipper saw enough talent in this unassuming youth to include him in the playing XI for their opening match against Delhi Daredevils. Shukla was nervous; after all, he had so far only dreamt of playing on such a big stage. It was all for real now. This
WATCH OUT: The pace is there, but Shukla would do well to learn to keep the runs in check
nervousness turned into confidence when he dismissed Mahela Jayawardene. Unknown Shukla, who had caused a few raised eyebrows when the Royals named him in their squad, had arrived. Just like fellow Jharkhand bowler Varun Aaron, who had arrived on the scene with scorching pace a couple seasons ago. “Rahul and I have bowled together at the U-19 level as well as in the Ranji Trophy,” Aaron says, “He was always good. He has got the right opportunity with Rajasthan Royals and this will be very good for him.” Aaron, currently recuperating
from a stress fracture on his back, said. He added that he and Shukla always bowled fast and they complemented each other as bowling partners: “He was always quick and extracted quite a bit of bite from the wicket.” Dravid has been working on the confidence of this young pacer, telling him that he is good at his job. The veteran, in his gentle way, makes a youngster like Shukla feel at home in the Royals dressing room. Shukla agrees that the presence of Dravid has given him a huge boost. As Royals' little-known wicketkeeper Dishant Yagnik said,
Dravid doesn’t differentiate between a veteran and a rookie. He treats everyone with equal respect. For a player like Shukla, that is a huge thing and the results are already showing. Earlier Shukla was in the Mumbai Indians ranks in 2010, but had hardly made any impact. He is still not a regular in the Jharkand side, but last week’s show against Bangalore — and hopefully a few more will follow — is sure to earn him some respect in the domestic circuit. “Our talent spotters were quite impressed with Shukla,” a Royals official says, “As our aim is to give more opportunities to local talent, Shukla fitted the bill perfectly.” Of course, bowling along with the likes of Tait and Sreesanth will help him immensely. He has been picking up tips from these two veterans, and that has further added to his confidence. Although pace is his forte, ask Shukla and he will tell you that he bowls good yorkers and slower-ones too. In fact, he has been working on these areas, which has given him some additional variety. He would definitely benefit by adding variety to his arsenal. Although he did pick up two crucial wickets against Kolkata Knight Riders, he gave away too many runs. That’s the flip side of pace. You are good as long as you are getting your line right. But, stray a little and you'll go for runs. Shukla gave away 28 runs in the three overs that he bowled. Even by T20 standards, that’s expensive. Against Delhi Daredevils, he gave away 27 runs in as many overs for his one wicket. His economy rate in the tournament so far is over 9, which can be considered a bit on the higher side. He has worked up good enough pace, now maybe he should start working on keeping the runs in check. And maybe, also work on his fitness to ensure that like Aaron, he doesn’t pick up injuries early in his career. Although it has been quite some time since Mahendra Singh Dhoni last played for Jharkhand, the very fact that the India captain is a representative of the state has got many a hopeful dreaming. Shukla too can dare to dream now. For the 22-year old, a good performance in the ongoing T20 tournament could open the doors for better things to come. With the pace slots in the Indian team more like musical chairs, Shukla can fancy his chances.
‘Green Jacket’ Watson tugs at emotional chords
Bubba Watson remains the most unlikely winner in recent Augusta Masters memory. This year, as the world of golf focuses its sights on Tiger Woods’ return, this little-known champion wants to savour the moment for as long as he can
ubba Watson cried on the final green after his victory in last year’s Masters. Speaking at the defending champion’s customary news conference last week, Watson was in tears again. Later, asked about that night’s traditional champion’s dinner, Watson concluded that if he had to speak, “I’ll probably cry.” Bubba redux took many forms at the Augusta National Golf Club, not all of them involving sniffles or sobs. But the phenomenon that is Bubba Watson at the Masters kept finding new legs. Alongside the 10th hole, scores of fans were making the pilgrimage to a shady spot in the woods right of the hole, pointing and talking reverently as if looking for a landmark at a Civil War battlefield. In this case, the attraction was an unmarked spot where Watson’s tee shot came to rest last year before he hooked his ball around the trees and onto the green to win the Masters on the second playoff hole. Standing in the spot, everyone wanted to see what only Watson visualized. The cavalcade into the woods had some wondering if there ought to be a plaque to mark the site. Watson did not disagree. “Who wouldn’t want to see a plaque that says Bubba in the middle of the pine straw?” he said. He then added that he would never request such a plaque — unless he did it again this year. “Then, yes, there should be a plaque,” he said. Watson has wandered over to the spot a few times in the last few days as well. He took his manager into the woods,
where they took pictures. His wife disappeared into the trees and took a picture. Watson played a practice round with Rickie Fowler, who like Watson is one of the Golf Boys of dance video fame. “But Rickie didn’t seem too interested in going over to the spot,” Watson deadpanned. Other players have moseyed over. Padraig Harrington was seen taking a practice swing, mimicking Watson’s near miraculous shot — if right-handed (Watson is left-handed). And Watson saw two people standing in the woods off the 10th hole. He motioned to them that they were rummaging around in the wrong place. “I yelled, ‘No, that’s not the spot, it’s a little over there,’” he said. “I was just joking with them, and they saw it was me. Come to find out it was Billy Casper and his son. Kind of funny.” Casper is the 1970 Masters champion. So far, everything has caused Watson to recollect and smile — well, almost everything. Early in the news conference, Watson was asked to name the most interesting thing he had done with his green jacket. Watson replied that as he was preparing for the posttournament green jacket ceremony, he saw an Augusta National member holding one. “I asked if that was my green jacket,” Watson said. “And I was told, ‘Yeah, and you’re taking it home.’” At this point, Watson began to cry. Just before last year’s Masters, Watson and his wife, Angie, had adopted a baby boy, Caleb. Last week, after wiping away tears several times, Watson added: “I told him that I was going to go home and wrap Caleb up in it. That’s the only thing
FATHER TO SON: Augusta Masters defending champion Bubba Watson carries his son, Caleb, during the Par 3 Contest ahead of the 2013 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club last week. Watson was tied-64th with an opening round of three-over 75 at the time of going to press
I did with it. Out of respect, out of honour. I didn’t do any of my funny antics that I normally would do. Only thing I did was wrap Caleb up in it.” If Watson, 34, was being his routinely emotional self, he also was happily enjoying each moment of what could be his last few days as the defending champion. (The Masters would already be into its second round by the time this piece appears.) He comes to the Masters not playing especially well. He is ranked 42nd in the FedEx Cup standings, with just two top-10 finishes this season. But Watson was in too good a mood to be brought down by the facts of his recent play. “I just look at it as it’s a different year — getting older, different conditions,” he said with a smile. “So who knows how I’ll play? I could miss the cut; I could win. But if you’re a stats guy, you look and say, ‘Bubba is not playing as good as last year.’”
He added nonetheless that he would love to become the fourth golfer to repeat, something only Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo have done. But first, cognizant that the defending champion is expected to help the new champion into his green jacket, Watson has set an intermediate goal. “I want to make the cut because I don’t want to have to sit around for two days to give somebody the green jacket,” he said. But if he makes the cut, he said, anything could happen. He is Bubba Watson, the man who hits near miraculous shots even when seemingly condemned to golf’s purgatory. He is restricted only by his imagination. “I can see me pulling it off,” he conceded. “It wouldn’t shock me.” But he was practical, too. “I would still cry,” he said. “But it wouldn’t shock me.”
— NYT NEWS SERVICE
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