All-rounder India should be pitching for

Raj Bawa could well be the seam bowling all-rounder the Indian cricket team is craving for.

Last Saturday, the left-handed batter and right-arm pace bowler once again showed he has the potential to rise up the ranks quickly and make a place in the India side permanent in the future.

The 19-year-old scored a crucial 35 and took 5-31 in the Under-19 World Cup final as India defeated England by four wickets at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua, West Indies.

Raj, the player of the match, ended the tournament as one of the leading all-rounders - with nine wickets and one of eight batters to pass 250 runs.

He scored an unbeaten 108-ball 162, including 14 fours and eight sixes, against Uganda in the group stage - becoming the highest individual scorer in a single innings for India in the tournament's history and breaking Shikhar Dhawan's unbeaten 155 against Scotland in Dhaka in 2004.

His five-wicket haul on Saturday was the first time any Indian player has achieved that feat in India's eight appearances in the U-19 World Cup final.

Raj learnt all his cricketing skills from his father Sukhwinder Singh Bawa, a cricket coach in Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab and Haryana. "Everything I've learnt in cricket is down to him," Raj told IANS. "He's been a major influence on my development."

Sukhwinder, who has coached the likes of Indian great Yuvraj Singh, told the Press Trust of India: "My son started playing (cricket) when he was 11 or 12, before that he wasn't interested in it. He liked to listen and dance to Punjabi songs on the television."

Sport ran in the family as Raj's grandfather Tarlochan Singh Bawa was a member of the hockey team that won independent India's maiden Olympic gold in London in 1948.

Sukhwinder was elated when Bawa decided to give cricket more importance. "He was a topper in his school in studies," said the father. "But he gradually began to accompany me to the cricket academy and began to follow Yuvraj's style."

Such was Yuvraj's influence on Raj that the natural right-hander decided to bat left-handed just like his hero.

"When Raj picked the bat, he would do it left-handed," said Sukhwinder. "But everything else - bowling, throwing, etc - he would do right-handed. I tried to correct him but, when I would turn away, he again held the bat with a left-handed stance. So, I let it be."

After Raj made it to the Punjab U-16 team, the father noticed that the boy had the makings of a good pace bowler.

"He was more inclined towards bowling in the beginning because I also used to be a fast-bowling all-rounder," said Sukhwinder. "But I wanted to balance it. So, I stopped him from bowling.

"I focused more on preparing him as a proper batter. I wanted him to do well in crunch situations. I didn't want him to be a bowler who can bat. I wanted him to be like Yuvraj in batting and like Kapil Dev in bowling.

"I wanted him to be a complete all-rounder, 50-50. For that, it was important to make him bat.

"When he made it to the Punjab's U-16 team, I gave him the ball. I had seen him bowl as a child and I was confident that he can bowl better than anybody else."

After his heroics in the the U-19 World Cup final, Raj said that he likes both batting and bowling. "I like batting because it's two against 11 players," he said. "I like the pressure of the competition and the responsibility to perform for the team.

"As an all-rounder I like to contribute to the team's victory in any way possible, whether that's batting, bowling, fielding. I love playing cricket."

Former England captain Michael Vaughan and Ireland cricketer-turned-commentator Niall O'Brien believe Raj has the potential to rank among India's top all-rounders. "I think he's an absolute cracker," said O'Brien. "He's someone who's going to play for India in the very near future. He's a good hitter of the ball and he can bowl well."

Vaughan said India have probably found a seam bowling all-rounder in Raj. "Raj Bawa could quite possibly be that seam bowling all-rounder India have been craving for years," he tweeted.

Indo-Asian News Service

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