February 14, 2016 - the day when millions of hearts were melded together also saw a million others broken to pieces, spurned and left to mend themselves in their own time. But it was also a day when some young Indian boys were left sulking about a heartbreak, of a different kind.
They had just failed to lift the coveted Under-19 world cup Trophy. After playing their hearts out throughout the entire tournament, they had stumbled at the final hurdle losing to their Caribbean counterparts.
Although the young guns had performed to the best of their capabilities until then under the able guidance of Rahul Dravid, not crossing the final hurdle was a scar which would take some time to heal. Mayank Dagar, the Himachal Pradesh left-arm spinner who had bowling figures of three for 25 in the final, wants to compensate for the loss by winning the Senior World Cup in his career.
Mayank, like many of his age, is filled to the brim with enthusiasm and an ambition to make it big in life. As he was quick to admit, winning and losing are part of the game, and the pain from the world cup final defeat has receded into the back of his mind.
Dagar, in an exclusive chat with SportsCafe, says, “I know. It was pretty hard to digest the loss after a string of brilliant performances. But winning and losing are part and parcel of the game. As teenagers, we were there to learn. Yes, it hurts for not living to the expectations of the people. But, I promise I will compensate for it by winning a senior world cup for my country”.
Born and brought up in a cricket-loving family in Delhi, Dagar didn’t have to go too far for inspiration. Being the nephew of the inimitable Virender Sehwag, cricket was in his blood. His father, Jitender Dagar, too had represented Delhi University during his heydays. But Dagar did well in academics and was shifted to the Bishop Cotton’s School in Shimla, where his journey with the cricket ball and bat actually started.
Dagar was selected into his school team, and soon made a name for himself in school cricket, which eventually paved the way for his inclusion in the state team for the Under-16 Vijay Merchant Trophy. Consistent performances ensured success, and he graduated to become one of the best in the business in his age group.
Being the nephew of Sehwag also helped his cause as he received invaluable advice on his game time and again.
“Mamma gives me advice about my game and how can I make it better. He is a legend and doesn’t have that much of time, though, the little time we spend, he tells me about what my attitude should be both on and off the field, which is very important.”
Mayank is a lanky left-arm spinner and uses his height to extract bounce from the wicket and to generate flight. This trait also reaped dividends in the Under-19 world cup in which he ended as the second-highest wicket-taker for India despite playing two matches less than the top wicket-taker Avesh Khan. Now when India is in search of a quality left-arm spinner, who actually can add depth to the batting line-up, Dagar is a solid hope for the future
In the Under-19 World Cup, India went with leg-spinner Zeeshan Ansari for the first two matches. But when Dagar got a chance to play in the third match against Nepal, he grabbed the opportunity with open arms picking up the two most important wickets and eventually ended up as the second-highest wicket-taker in the tournament for India.
“In India under-19, everyone was equally talented. So, we had to wait for our opportunities. Dravid sir, Paras (Mhambrey) sir and Abhaya (Sharma) sir told us not to be impatient and we would get a game at any time.”
He went on to add, “Dravid sir is a legend. He was more like a mentor for us. Being under him for a long period was really fantastic. He always believed in the youngsters and made us comfortable both on and off the field. Along with him, Paras Sir and Sharma Sir around, we were completely pressureless. They used to handle the situation brilliantly.”
In a generation that has grown watching more T20 cricket than Tests, an IPL contract can fascinate any youngster. But Dagar chose to not worry about things not under his control - like an IPL call-up.
“Last year at the time of the auction, we were playing the under-19 World Cup. So it was more important for us. IPL is happening every year, but world cup doesn’t come like that. Only one thought was there, to win the world cup. I have no qualms about not getting a chance and yes, I am very happy for my teammates who were a part of the IPL.”
For now, Himachal has an old war-horse in the form of Bipul Sharma who has always bailed the team out on many circumstances. His absence for the first game paved the way for Dagar to get a game against Andhra Pradesh for the first Ranji game at the KIIT Stadium in Bhubaneswar, and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands scoring an important 42 runs for his team. This speaks volume of his batting ability.
“I didn’t get many chances to prove my credentials as a batsman. But, I am ready to don the role of a useful batsman in the lower middle-order. I have taken the team out of trouble in junior state matches with the bat and hopefully, I will do the same in this Ranji Trophy too.
“As Dharamsala is a pace conducive track, it was difficult to go with two spinners, but after this now I can get more chances and am sure I will vindicate the selection,” Dagar concluded with a smile.
For India, ICC under-19 World Cups have had a mixed history so far. Some cricketers have made it big, while some have been lost to oblivion. But with the drive and talent that Dagar possesses, his tale might very well lead to an India blue.
At least as of now, he has all the makings of it.