If you happened to be at the Airforce Sports Complex in Palam on Wednesday afternoon, then you would probably not be at fault for mistaking Priyam Garg for some veteran batsman, who has amassed tons of runs in first-class cricket. The confidence in his stroke-play and the poise were the sure-shot giveaways.
In fact, Garg does a great job of masking his age under the veneer of the helmet. Once he separates himself from the cricketing gear is when reality sinks in. All of just 18, Garg exudes a sense of inherent boyish charm, which belies his matured batsmanship. “He is way beyond his years,” Uttar Pradesh captain Akshdeep Nath chips in.
Nath is not off the mark. The ease with which Garg was toying with the Services bowling attack today was sensational. Simply put, he was batting like a dream, or some might even say, like a seasoned pro. And to pull off such an act of bravado in only his third first-class game requires some talent.
Not surprisingly, Garg walked away with top honours on Day 2 of the ongoing Ranji Trophy duel between Uttar Pradesh and Services. The gawky teen stroked a 152-ball 88, which was laced with 13 sumptuous boundaries. He looked poised to overhaul the three-figure score, before a rare moment of indiscretion ended his vigil. He shared a 93-run stand for the third wicket with Nath, which would be the highlight on an otherwise dour day. Their efforts were instrumental in helping Uttar Pradesh go past Services first-innings tally of 260. At stumps, the visitors had notched up 265/5, with their noses confidently in front.
Garg had already caught the attention with his dreamy century on his Ranji Trophy debut against Goa in the season opener at Kanpur’s Green Park. The buzz was perceptible even at the Palam Ground today as he neared the landmark after the tea interval. In the end, the sense of the occasion perhaps got the better of the youngster. “Yes, I was a keen to get to my century today, which was why I ended up playing that shot,” he says in a typical matter-of-fact manner at the end of the day’s play.
Barring that lone error in judgment, Garg displayed oodles of class, backed by purpose and common sense. The most definitive feature on his batting, which helped him succeed on this slow and low Palam track was his ability to play the ball so late. That’s a rare gift to have for a batsman these days.
Fabled Meerut ground
This is a trait he has managed to imbibe while growing up and playing much of his childhood cricket in Meerut’s fabled Victoria Park. This is the quintessential nursery for some of the finest exponents of swing bowlers, and facing the likes of the crafty Bhuvneshwar Kumar so early helped him adapt, and mould his game. The rigours of Victoria Park helped him progress through the age-group cricket in the state easily. In no time, he was peeling off runs at the U-16 and U-19 levels, scoring seven double centuries on the way.
These runs did not quite translate into a call-up into India’s U-19 squad. When he got the opportunity, he didn’t quite grasp them, especially in the shorter formats. His doors to India’s youth team were shut following a series of indifferent performances in the ODIs against England in June 2017. In the interim, even though he continued to dazzle in the longer format at the U-19 levels, these performances went largely under the radar. There was little doubt in him not making the cut for the U-19 World Cup squad in New Zealand earlier this year. That team’s stirring performances and the consequent triumph in the showpiece event threw several youngsters into the spotlight. Some of them even clinched plum IPL contracts. Sadly enough, Garg’s efforts went largely unnoticed.
However, a string of dazzling starts in his debut Ranji season presents Garg with a glorious opportunity of turning things around. For now, he just needs to carry on his rich vein of batting form in the subsequent league matches and help Uttar Pradesh progress into the Ranji Trophy knock-outs.
The team management is not complaining though. The injection of the likes of Garg and Shivam Mavi has given this squad some much-needed vitality and confidence. All this has resulted in them registering back-to-back outright wins in this tournament so far, and look poised of running the Services team ragged on their home turf. Apart from the influx of youth, Nath reckons that participating in the four-day KSCA tournament in Bengaluru, where they were eventually crowned winners, proved to be the perfect warm-up to the domestic season.
“One of the things we did right this time around was to participate in the four-day KSCA tournament, which we won with the same team that’s playing there. It helped us get into the groove for the Ranji season. Unlike in the past, we would come into a tournament absolutely cold, without any match practice,” Nath explained.
Brief Scores: First Innings: Services 260 (Ankit Rajpoot 4/74, Shivam Mavi 4/44) vs Uttar Pradesh 265/5 (Priyam Garg 88, Akshdeep Nath 56).