All-round Passi justifies selection
When Kamal Passi was asked after his Man-of-the-Match performance against Zimbabwe whether he considered himself an allrounder, his response was: "bilkul (totally), and I'll prove it too."
He had already done his bit to prove it: 24 blitzed off five balls and a career-best 6 for 23 to put India on course for the quarter-finals of the Under-19 World Cup.
Passi did not play in the defeat against West Indies on Sunday because India picked three spinners and preferred Sandeep Sharma and Rush Kalaria as the seamers. He was chosen over Kalaria today. When Passi had his first opportunity to make an impact on the game, at No. 8 in the batting order, India were 237 for 6 and time was running out: there were five balls left in the innings.
"There were five balls remaining, I was new, Smit [Patel] was already batting," Passi said. "I told him, I'll take a single and then you play. But I got all those short balls..."
Passi pulled the first one, from medium-pacer Curthbert Musoko, to the midwicket boundary. He was lucky against the second: he swung so hard that the top edge carried over fine leg for six. The third also disappeared over fine leg, more intentionally this time and, after a two to long-on, the final ball disappeared over the midwicket boundary once again. His innings had lifted India to a target that was on the right side of competitive.
During the lunch break, Passi warmed up by bowling at the coach Bharat Arun, while his team-mates went through fielding drills. The second over, with the second new ball, was his. He bowled primarily good-length balls that swung into the right-handers with a front-on, open-chested action, running through the crease as he delivers at around 130kph. A bowler with a wiry physique, Passi has less of a jump than Ashish Nehra does.
He conceded only one run in his opening over from the River End, and struck off consecutive balls - the last of the second over and first of the third. Kevin Kasuza did not move his feet while trying to cut and was caught behind, while Luke Masasire was bowling trying to hoick across the line at a full delivery that swung. Two more wickets came off short balls, one was edged to the keeper and the other pulled to midwicket.
After an opening spell of seven overs, Passi spent the next couple of hours watching Malcolm Lake score an outstanding hundred that raised Zimbabwe's hopes of a come-from-behind victory. "The Zimbabwe team batted well and during the slog overs it seemed as if the game might change," Passi said. "Those runs I scored were important, if I had not the score would have been 240. It was good for our bowlers."
There were two wickets remaining and 70 runs to get. Passi got both, with a full ball and a slower one, in seven deliveries to finish with 8.1-1-23-6.
Passi made the India Under-19 team after progressing through age-group cricket in Punjab. He played for the state U-15 team in 2007, the U-16s the following year, and the U-19s in 2009.
"At U-19 I've performed at state level for two years," he said. "I had a very good feeling I could play for my country and my performance today is my best for India."
Passi's first U-19 game for India was during the Quadrangular Series involving India, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Australia in Visakhapatnam in September 2011. He took five wickets in three matches and made six runs with two not outs in the lower order. Not quite a proven allrounder yet.
He then came to Townsville for another quadrangular tournament earlier this year and took six wickets in five games. He also made 41 off 30 balls against Australia, batting at No. 9. He went wicketless and was expensive in the semi-finals and finals of that tournament. "I first toured here in April, and everyone thinks on a bouncy track you can try short balls, but that's no use here because overseas batsmen play the short ball well," he said. "So I worked on my basics and bowled a good line and length this time."
The Under-19 Asia Cup did not happen for Passi because of a hamstring injury. While his team-mates were experiencing the pressure of one-run defeats and tied matches, Passi was undergoing rehab at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore.
"I was playing district matches and I got injured, so I missed the Asia Cup," he said. "I felt very bad … but whatever has happened has happened for the best. Had I gone to the Asia Cup and got injured there, I would have perhaps missed the World Cup."
Passi's performance today has made him almost impossible to drop, so as long as he stays fit, it's unlikely he'll be missing any more of the World Cup.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo