Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti set the speed guns on fire in India's unbeaten run to the Under-19 World Cup title in 2018 in New Zealand and knocked over stumps for fun as out-and-out quicks. The Kolkata Knight Riders were so impressed by them that they broke the bank to get both Nagarkoti (INR 3.2 crore) and Mavi (INR 3 crore) on board for IPL 2018.
The Knight Riders' plan was to unleash them together on a helpful Eden Gardens pitch and ambush oppositions. However, while Mavi made fleeting appearances for the Knight Riders in 2018 and was sidelined from the entire IPL 2019, Nagarkoti hadn't played any form of top-flight cricket, barring two Vijay Hazare Trophy games for Rajasthan, after winning the Under-19 World Cup.
More than two years later, they both were fit again and playing together for the Knight Riders in Abu Dhabi. In between, another bunch of Under-19 stars emerged as India made the final of the World Cup in South Africa earlier this year, their former Under-19 team-mates Shubman Gill and Prithvi Shaw made their senior debuts, one their former Under-19 opponents Tom Banton enjoyed stints in the Big Bash League and Pakistan Super League before becoming team-mates with Nagarkoti and Mavi for IPL 2020. During the time when Mavi and Nagarkoti were on the sidelines, the coronavirus pandemic struck the world, pushing the IPL out of India to the UAE. Had the IPL got underway in April-May earlier this year, Mavi wouldn't have been fit as he was still recovering from a stress fracture of the back he had suffered in December 2019.
Both Nagarkoti and Mavi went wicketless against the Sunrisers Hyderabad in Abu Dhabi although the Knight Riders secured their first points. But against the Rajasthan Royals in Dubai, everything came together for Nagarkoti, Mavi and the Knight Riders management, which has relentlessly backed the pair despite their history of injuries.
The Knight Riders had similarly backed Andre Russell earlier after he had missed IPL 2017 because of a doping violation. That was expected as Russell is among the best T20 players ever. Mavi and Nagarkoti, however, were unproven in T20 cricket. Heck, Nagarkoti hadn't played a single T20 before this IPL. Yet, the team management kept reiterating that they were "special" talents and looked after them like how a doting father would looking after his kids when any other franchise might have jettisoned them.
"I literally feel like he is one of my kids - he's that age, and he has that same emotion towards me, I think," Venky Mysore, the KKR CEO, recently said of Nagarkoti.
On Wednesday, Nagarkoti and Mavi ripped through the Royals batting line-up courtesy their bustle with the ball and in the field, providing a throwback to 2018, when they had thrilled the likes of Ian Bishop and Sourav Ganguly, and repaying the Knight Riders' faith in them.
Nagarkoti was also a livewire in the field, showing the world why his captain Dinesh Karthik likens his fielding to Ravindra Jadeja's. When Robin Uthappa dabbed Mavi in front of him at backward point, he tore in from there, swooped down on the ball, and rifled an underarm flick that nearly ran out Jos Buttler. Then, in the 15th over, Nagarkoti sprinted at full tilt to his left from long-on, dived almost parallel to the ground, and grabbed a skied hit from Jofra Archer even though it was swerving away from his reach towards long-off. Spotting the ball under lights and catching it has been a challenge for other fielders in Dubai - as many as ten regulation catches have been spilled at this venue in just six games - but not for Nagarkoti. He showed them how to do it in style.
It was Mavi who had set the scene for the emphatic defence by dismissing the in-form Sanju Samson and the dangerous Buttler in successive overs either side of the powerplay. After having Samson splice a pull to short midwicket off a 135kph hard-length delivery that cramped the batsman for room, he shifted his lines wider and had Buttler slicing a catch to short third man.
Nagarkoti immediately took over and took out both Uthappa and Riyan Parag in the next over and cranked up his pace to 143kph to harry Tom Curran. The Rajasthan boy was bossing the Rajasthan Royals. At 42 for 5 in pursuit of 175, it was game over for the Royals.
However, this (re)union of Nagarkoti and Mavi could well be the beginning of something "special", as the Knight Riders have been anticipating for over two years. So, how delighted was the team management with the heroics of Nagarkoti and Mavi?
"That's something I really wanted to answer! Just the fact to see both these boys out there playing for us, representing our franchise…The fact that we stuck with them and just to see them out there, it's so happy," Karthik gushed at the post-match press conference. "The fact that they're bowling well and fielding well is a bonus, but just to see them out there. I've been wanting to see them since the time they played the World Cup [in 2018]. It's just great to see them both on the field."
The long-awaited match-winning returns of Nagarkoti and Mavi added so much depth to the Knight Riders attack that they didn't need their premier spinner Kuldeep Yadav until the 16th over against the tail.