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Saumy Pandey, aka junior Ravindra Jadeja

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Last updated on 20 Jan 2024 | 04:11 PM
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Saumy Pandey, aka junior Ravindra Jadeja

The left-arm spinner was the star performer for India in their first match of the 2024 Under-19 World Cup

As a spinner, what do you do if there is a bit of turn and grip on offer? You try to bowl as many deliveries as possible on the stumps - and that’s exactly what Saumy Pandey did against Bangladesh in Match 3 of the 2024 Under-19 World Cup in Bloemfontein on Saturday (January 20). Almost every delivery he bowled at Mangaung Oval was an event.

You look at how Pandey operates, you would know why the commentators were constantly referring to him as “Junior Jadeja” on air. Target the stumps and keep varying the pace - that’s more or less how Ravindra Jadeja has got close to 550 wickets in international cricket. And Pandey’s way of left-arm spin is no different. 

The 19-year-old was the star performer for India in their tournament opener, finishing with figures of 4/24 in 9.5 overs. Three of his dismissals were bowled while the remaining one was lbw. Pandey was rewarded for his consistent bowling.

India won the game by 84 runs and it wouldn’t have been possible without Pandey’s performance. It was a fiery contest and he was up for the fight. He kept riling up every Bangladeshi batter and backed his words with action.

The surface wasn’t too easy to bat and left-arm seamer Maruf Mridha (5/43) restricted India to 251/7. Adarsh Singh (74) and skipper Uday Saharan (64) crafted important fifties, while Priyanshu Moliya, Aravelly Avanish, and Sachin Dhas chipped in with decent cameos. The target was tricky but Bangladesh had in-form batters.

India’s Naman Tiwari struggled to find his line and length, allowing Bangladesh openers Ashiqur Rahman Shibli and Jishan Alam to add 38 runs in less than seven overs. Raj Limbani got the wicket of Jishan in the seventh over but Shibli was still around and that’s the wicket India needed.

The runs were coming at a good pace and that’s when Saharan decided to bring Pandey into the attack. It didn’t take him too long to make an impact, knocking over Chowdhury Md Rizwan with a straighter delivery. In his very next over, he got the big fish. In-form Shibli was undone by a delivery that skidded off from a short length and disturbed the leg stump.

Pandey conceded just eight runs in his first spell of six overs and almost killed the game inside 20 overs. Bangladesh could only manage 17 runs in 11 overs while he was operating from one end. His hard work allowed Musheer Khan, Arshin Kulkarni, and Murugan Abhishek to bowl with freedom.

But again, Pandey wasn’t done yet. He was brought back to close the game and the tweaker got rid of Md Iqbal Hossain Emmon and Mridha without breaking a sweat. The job was done for the day and India walked away with two points. His bowling mantra is quite simple, but his journey to the top wasn’t. 

Pandey comes from the Rewa district of Madhya Pradesh. Preterm birth meant he had a tough childhood, falling ill on a regular basis. The doctors advised his parents, both government teachers, to involve him more in physical activities and they enrolled him in the Vindhya Cricket Academy. There was no looking back thereafter.

"As he was born in seven months, he was weak and used to fall ill whenever there was a change in weather. Doctors advised physical activities like cycling or swimming but once he turned five, we opted for cricket as we (him and his wife) are working parents and did not have time," father Krishna Kumar told The New Indian Express.

"The results were encouraging as in a few months he showed improvements. Gradually, the problem was not only solved but Saumy got hooked on the game. In fact, he always loved the game even when he was a toddler.”

Aril Anthony, who has worked with the likes of Ishwar Pandey, Kuldeep Sen, Pooja Vastrakar, and Nuzhat Parween, then took Pandey under his wings. Pandey kept improving and did well in the Under-16 and Under-19 games for the state, which soon got him a place in the BCCI camp at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru. 

"He is blessed with a sharp mind and being a hard worker only helped his cause. He bowls fast in the air and uses crease to his advantage," said his coach to the same publication.

It was his performance in the quadrangular men's one-day series in November 2023 that helped him seal his spot in the WC squad. The left-armer ended the tournament as the leading wicket-taker, claiming 13 wickets in seven games at an economy of less than 5. He didn’t take a single wicket in the Asia Cup despite bowling 26 overs but got his form back once he arrived in South Africa.

In the tri-nation series against South Africa and Afghanistan, Pandey scalped nine wickets in just two games, including a hat-trick against the latter. With his rhythm back, the management was hoping for Pandey to lead the bowling attack and that’s exactly what he did in the tournament opener for India.

Pandey kept the Bangladeshi batters in check from the word go and made his presence felt in some style. The left-arm spinner forced Bangladesh into submission with his control, and now if he can keep his form going, Pandey and India could ‘control’ this World Cup. 

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