Manjot Kalra had been forced to play second fiddle to his more distinguished teammates throughout the 2018 Under 19 World Cup. But he took centre-stage with a wonderful unbeaten century in the final against Australia.
Up until the final, Manjot Kalra’s ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup campaign had been spent in the shadows of teammates Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill. He was averaging more than fifty for the competition coming into the finale, and yet his name was barely mentioned as among the future stars this tournament had produced.
His two innings of note were both left in the dust by blistering knocks by the one or the other, with Shaw’s wonderful 94 against Australia overshadowing his slightly more sedate 86, and his 47 against Pakistan in the semi-final forgotten because of the performance it set the platform for – Gill’s astonishing 102.
But the final was, finally, a day all about Kalra. Shaw was dismissed for under 40 for the first time this tournament, and Gill for just 31, ending a streak of six consecutive 50-plus scores in Under 19 ODIs. On a day when only one other batsman from either side passed 50, Kalra's unbeaten 101 stood out starkly.
“It’s a World Cup final-winning knock, and that too a hundred,” he said. “It’s a big deal. I think it’s my best knock so far, I’ll definitely remember it for a while.”
Even while Shaw and Gill were at the crease it was Kalra who dominated. All three of the games’s sixes came from his bat, the first a free-hit deposited miles over long-on that settled the nerves, the last a full toss smashed even further over the grass banks that felt like it settled the contest.
But more than the big hitting, it was coolness and calmness that typified the innings, Kalra playing with a level head that belied the pressure of the situation; only his roar upon reaching his hundred betrayed his emotion. He struck 45 singles in all, scoring off more than half the balls he faced – considering the low target, it was all that was required.
“Before the innings started, [coach Rahul Dravid] told us how to attack, how to pace the innings,” he said. “He told us to stick to our abilities and that we would be able to chase the score easily.”
Even outside of the context of the tournament, he has had his limelight hogged by Shaw and Gill. Though he has earned an IPL contract with Delhi Daredevils, he will share a dressing room with Prithvi Shaw who will be earning six times more than him. As school children Shaw and Gill had achieved fame for smashing records with the bat; all Kalra had been in the news for was for his age needing to be verified – twice.
But none of that mattered in the final, and for his exploits in this one match alone he will become a hero to many. When asked how he would approach being a role model, he laughs. “I don’t know about all that,” he said. “I guess I’ll just tell them to work hard and practice as much as possible.”
With Shaw and Gill the obvious candidates for players to look up to, it is understandable that he hadn’t thought about it. But on the evidence of today’s innings, it, and the spotlight, may be something he will have to get used to.