Thompson and Lillee. Waqar and Wasim. Holding and Marshall. Fast bowlers famously hunt in pairs, but it's difficult to even consider India's under-19 pairing as predators. Left-arm seamer Saurabh Netrawalkar looks the good boy who does his homework on time and stands first in exams, and this is true in real life. Sandeep Sharma has a mischievous grin and a twinkle in the eye fixed permanently on his cheeky face.
Together, the two form the backbone of India's under-19 bowling attack. On Friday, they worked magnificently in tandem, putting the balls in the right areas and making it talk. Both bowled their full complement of 10 overs in one spell, with Netrawalkar registering tidy figures of 10-4-23-2 and Sandeep doing even better, returning 10-4-13-1. Afghanistan's batsmen had no reply to the accuracy and cunning of the pair. The control was so total that the Indians could operate without a fielder at fine-leg, thereby packing the off side. Not one ball slid down leg, and movement in the air and off the pitch was enough to keep the batsmen honest.
“We began playing together in under-15 itself. In zonal acadamies and the National Cricket Academy, we've been bowling together,” says Sandeep. Like any successful pairing, the two revel in each other’s strengths. “The control and accuracy with which Saurabh bowls is amazing,” says Sandeep of his partner. “Sandeep’s attitude, and the positive manner in which he approaches everything, is a lesson for everyone,” says Netrawalkar, returning the compliment.
For coach Chandrakant Pandit, the pair is a huge relief. “Anyone can give ideas about what fields to set or how to approach things,” said Pandit. “But the real credit goes to those who apply these theories in practice, and get the right results.”
Netrawalkar is now studying Computer Science as an engineering major, and often carries his books with him on cricket tours. He remembers how his parents took the journey with him from Malad to Churchgate when he was picked up by Dilip Vengsarkar's Elf Academy as a child. “Not only did they come with me, they waited for three hours while practice was on, and took me home,” says Netrawalkwar. The hard work is paying off, as the youngster matches on-field exploits with academic excellence off it.
“In studies I am some way behind Saurabh,” says Sandeep, who is finishing up 12th standard in Punjab. “You've heard of the Patiala peg?” he asks, when you want to know where in Punjab he's from. But engineering's not for everyone, and Sandeep's talents with the ball are there for everyone to see. “For a youngster he has great control over how to swing the ball. He can move it both ways, but the manner in which he brings it in to the right-handed batsmen means he will always ask tough questions,” says Pandit.
Under favourable conditions and against a relatively weak opposition, India's fast bowling pairing shone. But they're aware that sterner tests await, and look forward to them with the eagerness that only youth affords.