Ishan Porel’s story so far in the 2018 ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup has been one of despair and hope. When he was withdrawn from India’s tournament-opener against Australia after just five overs following a heel injury, Porel was despondent. He found a secluded spot next to the jetty beside his team hotel, and wept.
He had worked far too hard over the years, had invested more mentally and emotionally than a regular teenager would in a career, and now he faced the very real prospect of being sent back home. “My parents just said that injuries would happen and asked me to remain strong,” said Porel. “But my mom is little emotional, she started crying. There's a place here [next to the hotel] – I just sat there and for two hours, I was crying. Alone... nobody saw me.”
At just 19, the weight of the world seemed to be on his shoulders.
Fast forward three weeks, and Porel is nearly back to full fitness, having played crucial roles in India’s victories in the Super League quarter-final and semi-final against Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively. He steamed in at the Bay Oval nets in Mount Maunganui, a day before India take on Australia in the final of the tournament, and seemed a tad nervous. There is a nervous energy about him – always a good sign.
On Saturday (3 February), his tournament could come full circle, against the same opposition on a much grander stage. He is feeling up to it. “Some of the self-doubt has gone away, and I am really looking forward to this match,” said Porel. “In the last game, I was satisfied with the effort I could put in, even though it was tough for me [after sustaining injury]. Now I am confident, the pain has also gone away, and I’m looking forward to the big final.”
The turnaround is down to India’s management staff. Porel could easily have been sent back to India and replaced by numerous others in the country's vast pool of players. It may very well have been a sliding doors moment – had Porel been sent back, his career could have panned out in a very different way, in stark contrast to the promise it now holds. The management, with the legendary Rahul Dravid at the helm, was aware of that. Rather than send a youngster back with his dreams in the dump, they focussed on his recovery, both physically and mentally.
“I was shattered when I got injured,” said Porel. “I came back to the dressing room, the doctor checked my feet, and it was paining horribly at even the smallest touch. It wasn't bruised, it wasn't swollen much. It seemed normal. But it was paining. I was shattered. I thought all my hard work would be wasted. I felt my World Cup was over.
“Rahul [Dravid] sir and the rest of the coaching team, they are very experienced and know how to handle these situations. They made sure they didn't talk much about the injury. Instead, they just told me not to get tense, assured me that I would be okay. Paras [Mhambrey] sir told me stories from his Ranji Trophy days – like, he was having a bath once when a piece of glass from the window fell on his feet and tore his ligaments in the middle of a first-class season. The physio also asked me not to get tensed.
“On the inside, I was hurting. I had prepared so much for this World Cup, but in the very first game, I was injured. Thankfully, in two or three days I gained my confidence back. It was tough, I wasn't feeling good, but as the days went by, I got my confidence back.”
For that, he said he is eternally grateful to the support staff. “I'm thankful to Rahul sir, the doctor, the trainer, the teammates... everyone. Every one of them,” he said. “They backed me up on a daily basis. Every day they used to tell me, ‘Don't worry, you'll be fine. Whatever happens is for the good. Just prepare for the quarter-final. From there, it will start for you.’ Everyone said that.”
And, sure enough, Porel made his comeback in the quarter-final against Bangladesh. With India managing to post just 265, Bangladesh would have been quietly hopeful of toppling them, but Porel, despite his pace being well below normal, returned figures of 5-2-8-0. Bangladesh never recovered, and the mounting scoreboard pressure meant they were eventually bundled out for 134.
In the semi-final against Pakistan, Porel added wickets to tally, returning 4/17 in six overs as Pakistan were shot out for 69.
While all seems well with Porel’s world now, there is still something that can’t quite be reversed. He had to sit and watch his fellow pacemen Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi land Indian Premier League contracts, their reputations enhanced by their performances in New Zealand. The injury, however, had cost Porel the chance to shine in the small window before the 2018 IPL auction.
His misfortune, he admitted, did hurt him. But once again, Dravid lent much-needed perspective. “To be honest, everyone wants attention,” said Porel with commendable honesty. “It’s not that I don’t want attention. It feels a bit bad, sometimes frustrating, that I am not capable of bowling at the pace I used to. But after the semi-final, Rahul sir spoke to me individually, and asked me to stop thinking I didn’t get an IPL deal because I wasn’t able to bowl fast.
“Rahul sir said, ‘At this very moment, you’re putting in the most effort in the team with the work you’re doing. You have put yourself on the line, and by coming back, you’re risking yourself.’ He assured me that I was doing a good job for the team. He asked me to be positive, and said that he had seen me bowl in domestic cricket, and thought I would get the attention I deserve soon. That was a big thing for me.”
With the vote of confidence from someone of the stature of Dravid, Porel is all set to vanquish the bad memories of what has been a difficult tournament. The stage is set.