Datey and Sakure in the fast lane
"Who is this guy?"
Puneet Datey has bowled only a few deliveries but Robin Singh, the former India allrounder and Mumbai Indians assistant coach, has seen enough to be impressed. What seems to catch his eye is Datey's strain-free action and a stable wrist position while delivery. A fellow journalist reveals an interesting nugget: Datey had picked up wickets with his first two deliveries in first-class cricket in 2013.
A little more than two years later Datey, 21, is part of a young pace-bowling group that has helped Madhya Pradesh badger Bengal at Brabourne stadium and take a big stride towards the semi-finals. Another member of the group is debutant Chandrakant Sakure, whose three wickets were a product of relentlessly pounding the surface at decent pace. Watching from afar, it is at times difficult to tell one from the other: they are both sturdily-built, right-arm seamers, but their stories could not be more different.
Sakure, 25, hails from Barghat, a small Tehsil near Jabalpur, and comes across as the quintessential small-town boy. The Bhopal-based Datey, on the other hand, has an urbane coolness to him, be it the polished English or confident manner. While Datey took to the game as a kid, it wasn't until he had turned 18 that Sakure, who used to nurse engineering ambitions, played with a cricket ball.
Sakure made his List A debut earlier this season and has started well, claiming seven wickets from four matches. Datey, though, hasn't been quite as remarkable - 12 wickets so far in his seventh game - but he netted 31 from eight games in 2014-15. What binds them though is a love for bowling fast - Datey says Sakure is quicker; quicker than Ishwar Pandey too.
Datey admits to nearly giving up fast bowling to become a specialist batsman before Jyoti Prakash Tyagi, his coach in Bhopal, advised against it. "Fast bowling is not an easy job to do, and it asks for a lot of fitness," he says with a wry smile. "And that was the time I was trying to get into the [state] team. But my coach has always said my attitude is suited for fast bowling and I am thankful for not letting me change." Datey though is almost defensive when you compliment his action. He says it comes to him naturally, but wants to be known more for his bowling than a "beautiful" action.
Datey has also been a beneficiary of tours to Australia and Sri Lanka with Madhya Pradesh's under-22 side. "These matches were not pressure matches and these were during the off season," he says. "It gives you time to work on your skills and it ultimately helps you get your rhythm ahead of a Ranji Trophy season."
For Sakure, the wait for his Ranji Trophy debut has been long and he is keen to make the most of every learning opportunity. He is in Mumbai for the first time and talks about how the sea breeze coming in from Marine Drive helped him swing the ball. This is a far cry from his days of trying to bowl flat out without any method to it.
"I would just come and bowl ek dum seedha [completely straight]," Sakure says. "I just used to keep bowling fast without knowing how to swing the ball. I even won a trophy in a district match where I took five wickets, but we didn't even know what division [level] cricket meant. The place I come from there is no mahoul [atmosphere] for cricket. But once I started understanding the technique of swinging the ball at the under-25 level, I started controlling my natural outswinger."
Both Datey and Sakure credit Pandey's "big role" in helping them out. "Ishwar Pandey stands at mid-off and he makes us bowl the way he wants to," Sakure says. "He has great experience and guides us." Should Madhya Pradesh make the semi-finals, Pandey and the rest of the team would want more out of the rookie pace pair.
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo