Fast. Hostile. Ambitious.
That pretty much sums up Kartik Tyagi, the right-arm quick whose 4 for 24 helped India knock Australia out of the Under-19 World Cup in the quarterfinal stage and keep alive the team's hopes of defending their title alive.
Despite half-centuries from Yashasvi Jaiswal and Atharva Ankolekar, India's 233 was competitive without being commanding. They needed something special with the new ball against a team that had chased 250-plus in their previous game, against England. It was Tyagi's opportunity to shine. And shine he did! There was a bonus wicket first ball as Jake Fraser-McGurk ran himself out, but then Tyagi took centre stage. The Australian captain Mackenzie Harvey was trapped lbw and Lachlan Hearne bowled with an inswinging yorker, all in one over, to leave Australia three down after six balls.Tyagi later picked up a wicket each in his next two spells, all of top-six batsmen.
After his match-winning performance, Tyagi spoke to his father, back home in the village of Hapur in Uttar Pradesh, to share the joy. All his father told him, as he revealed to ESPNcricinfo, was: "Well done, but the game is over. So it's about time you forget about today."
When Tyagi was 11, his father and uncle realised he was going nowhere with his studies, and that he had to find a career elsewhere. One thing his father did not want was for his son to be what he was - a farmer. In fact, Tyagi was kept so far away from it that he doesn't even remember what his father cultivates.
So Tyagi, not yet a teenager, joined a cricket academy in Meerut - around seven kilometres away from home, where Praveen Kumar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar come from - to become a cricketer. Under coach Vipin Vats' tutelage, Tyagi was soon in the Uttar Pradesh Under-14 squads. From there came a first-class debut at the tender age of 16, and despite a two-year struggle with injury, by the time he had become an adult, he had an IPL contract with Rajasthan Royals and was spearheading the India Under-19 attack.
"Life was difficult for us, especially for my father," Tyagi says, just a few hours after India's win. "He's a farmer, so there were constant financial problems at home. When we all decided that I should pursue cricket as a career, people laughed at us. But my father said, 'it doesn't matter what people say, and it doesn't matter to me if you're successful or not; what matters is you enjoy doing whatever you're doing'. He never let me enter farming and told me to only focus on cricket.
"This time, I decided to watch the IPL auction alone. I was half-nervous and half-anxious, but when I got bought by Royals, the first thing I did was call my father. But the call was short. All he said was, 'we'll talk later, there are lots of people at home" Kartik Tyagi
"The two years before the World Cup, life was not easy for us. I was getting injured often, and treating them was expensive. One doctor said it will take two months to recover, another said three months. Like that, 11 months passed. I remember a time when my parents warned me not to put extra effort in the field, just in case I get injured again."
At the World Cup, of course, he has been putting in that effort, and touching the 140s. According to him, bowling fast is a state of mind, it cannot be taught or coached, it comes from within. You either want to bowl fast or you don't. In his words, life for a fast bowler is like the pedals of a bicycle, up one moment, down the next.
"Bowling fast isn't a skill. It's the attitude you carry," Tyagi says. "If you want to bowl fast, it will show in your training. When two guys are training, you'll see the guy who wants to bowl fast will be working harder. It just shows in your work ethic.
"In this World Cup, I bowled very well in the first game but got no wickets. Then the next two games, I bowled poorly but I took wickets. And finally, against Australia, I bowled well and got rewarded for them. Ups and downs are the realities of life, so I've stopped thinking about the wickets column. I have just been focusing on the process.
"After the first World Cup game, my father explained to me that ups and downs are part of life. Which is why you shouldn't linger on a particular performance and focus on the next game. Sometimes we might think if we do something wrong, there's everyone on TV watching us and judging us. So he tells me, 'imagine no one is watching you, you'll do better that way'."
Before the quarter-finals against Australia, the day of the IPL auction in December 2019 was a big one for Tyagi. Ever since he started his first-class career three years ago, Tyagi had been putting his name in the auction list, only to be ignored. But this time, it was different. A bidding war between Kings XI Punjab and Royals took his price from INR 20 lakh to INR 1.3 crore [US$ 182,000 approx.], and once the hammer went down, life, as Tyagi knew it till then, changed.
"I had given my name in IPL auction when I was 16 itself. But I was injured at crucial points for two seasons straight," he recalls. "So this time, I decided to watch the auction alone. I was half-nervous and half-anxious, but when I got bought by Royals, the first thing I did was call my father. But the call was short. All he said was, 'we'll talk later, there are lots of people at home'. People from the neighbourhood had picked up my father and carried him around the village. I heard later that they played drums around the village through the night.
"I haven't spoken to any of the Royals players yet, but when I go to the IPL, I just know I will learn a lot from the senior bowlers. I keep thinking one thing - how much I'll learn from someone like Jofra Archer. The amount of struggle my family has seen, I want to make their life mast [full of joy]. The IPL contract will definitely help. We plan to buy a car soon."
Unlike most other players in the tournament, Tyagi is a straight shooter. With the others, you mostly hear of "a wonderful learning curve" and a "once-in-a-lifetime experience", but for Tyagi, "Winning a World Cup will matter so much, because a lot of emotion has gotten attached to this event now. We played 31 matches together as a team ahead of the World Cup, so the only thing in my mind is to win it - that's all. Moving ahead, the pressure will only increase. Ahead of us is the semi-final of a World Cup, after all."
Behind that youthful smile is nearly a decade of struggle - and he is still a teenager. The stakes are high in this sport, but so are the rewards. Tyagi knows that very well, and has made it his only focus - to change the fortunes of those who have supported him. Whoever saw Tyagi on Tuesday could see that something special in him. India is steadily becoming a fast-bowling powerhouse in global cricket, and Tyagi could just be the next in what is already a long line.