A youngster who we have been waiting to see unleash over the past two years is Kamlesh Nagarkoti. India’s U-19 World Cup star had been riddled with injuries and could not make his debut for Kolkata Knight Riders ever since being picked in the IPL Auction in 2018. But this season, his patience is finally set to bear fruit. From KKR CEO and MD Venky Mysore to ex-captain Sourav Ganguly, everyone has been all praises for our all-rounder par excellence in the making, and we caught up with him for a tête-à-tête in this episode of Knights Unplugged. Excerpts:

Hi Kamlesh, the entire city of Kolkata has been praying for your complete recovery for the past two years. How have you been? How did you spend your time at home during the lockdown?

Yeah, whatever training program was advised by KKR, I had been following that. I had a chat with Abhishek Nayar sir and also spoke to my previous mentors at NCA, Soham sir and Anand sir. They have a strong knowledge about my body, so they could suggest correct ways for me to improve. Basically, I took suggestions from all of them and picked out exercises that I could do at home.

Did you follow Chris Donaldson’s workout?

I did, I did! Totally (laughs)!

What’s your opinion about his workout? Were you able to pull it off?

I could do some exercises that were moderately difficult. But some were extremely tough. I didn’t even try them! You can’t start off with such hard exercises. Gradually, as I become stronger, I will try them out.

Tell us about your rehab process at NCA

I used to interact with a lot of seniors at NCA, including Rahul Dravid sir. He used to always help me sort out my issues. I learned a great deal when it comes to figuring out the areas I needed to work on, especially my body. Dravid sir has been really helpful in the entire process.

We heard a funny anecdote that Yuzvendra Chahal met you and jokingly asked if you had made NCA your permanent home! Is that a true story?

He used to come there to train often. Before any of India’s series, he would come there and practise. So, whenever he used to see me around, he would jokingly ask, “bro you are still here, have you made this your home?”. But he also used to advise me to keep calm as it was just a phase.

How different has your fitness regime been after coming back from the injuries?

I have changed a few aspects in my bowling after consulting my coach Surender sir and KKR bowling coach Omkar Salvi sir. They shared a couple of pointers on how to reduce injuries. I have been working on them regularly and they have been pretty beneficial.

You could not play for two years but Venky Mysore was kind enough to invite you to be a part of the KKR family during the matches. How has your experience been with this family?

I have never been made to feel that I am an outsider. Everyone in the team has made me feel at home. I remember I was invited to watch the match against Sunrisers Hyderabad with the rest of the KKR family from the stands. It was a special feeling. Mostly people don’t bother giving you scope or even staying in touch when you are hit by injuries. But Team KKR has really taken care of me well.

You said Rahul Dravid has been a great inspiration in your life. During your rehab, he kept motivating you with references of Pat Cummins. Can you tell us a few things from the experience you have had with him?

I remember I was playing TT one day when Dravid sir was passing by. He stopped for a while and said, “you look sad. I can understand what you are going through but try and take it positively”. Then he referred to Cummins’ absence from cricket for 3-4 years and said, “when he returned to cricket, he ensured he became the No. 1 bowler in the world”. He insisted that I should forget the past but must learn from the mistakes of the past to have a better future. One more thing I learned from him was not to ever feel that because I was injured, I would never be as good as before.

Now Pat Cummins is going to be your teammate. Do you have any questions to ask him?

Of course, he had injuries for a long time. So, I would want to ask him what mindset he had had during those 3-4 years, how he kept himself motivated and how he prepared himself for the comeback.

How has your time been at KKR Academy with Abhishek Nayar?

I had a great time. I had too many doubts to sort with batting and bowling. I benefited a lot from Abhishek Nayar’s experience. During practice sessions, whatever he makes us do, is extremely helpful for us. He has guided me both with bowling and batting and always focused on nurturing me as an all-rounder, that’s the best part.

You also trained with Omkar Salvi. Any particular area of bowling you focused on?

His way of training technicalities is very different from other bowling coaches I have met. So yes, the experience with him has been wonderful. He keeps calling me and even I do that often to discuss bowling and other things.

We have a lot of big names in the KKR ranks this year. Any batsman you look forward to bowling at the nets? Or any bowler you wish to take tips from?

I will definitely ask for tips from Cummins if I get a chance. For batsmen, my dream is to bowl to our coach Brendon McCullum at the nets. I have seen him while growing up. His batting style was really aggressive and unique. I guess I can learn a lot from him about the mindset of openers. He was himself an opener, so he can guide me on this. It is important for a bowler to read the mindset of opening batsmen.

Is this true that you dream of becoming the fastest bowler in India?

Yes! I do want to and I believe if you have a dream and you work towards it, you can definitely get success.

How has your chemistry been with your U-19 partner and KKR teammate Shivam Mavi?

We have been playing together for a long time. Even prior to the U-19 World Cup, we have played together. There has been a great bonding so far. We help each other in turns whenever any issue arises.

You made headlines for your excellent performance at Tauranga where India beat Australia. Sourav Ganguly tweeted about you, do you remember that?

Of course, I remember. It was one of the best moments of my life. My dream was to represent my country like any other youngster. And it happened! It was U-19, but nevertheless, it was a pleasure to play the World Cup. I remember how happy I was to see the tweets of Sourav Ganguly and other stalwarts. It is definitely one of the most memorable moments.

For T20 cricket, what changes did you introduce to your bowling preparations? Any particular variation that works the best?

We analyse a lot about our opposition – their weaknesses and strengths – and act accordingly. I focus a lot on the types of deliveries that I need to bowl to a particular player. Of course, you need variations in T20s. That’s the only way to survive. Yorkers are the best bet but these days even they get hit. So, now it has all become a mind game.

Does your mindset change from Powerplay to death bowling?

In the beginning, our motive is to pick up wickets. But during the death overs, we focus on saving runs. We need a lot of variations to stall the run flow. The mindset in the starting overs is very different from the death overs. But one thing that remains common in both is your mental strength.

What do you think will be the way forward for bowlers with this “new normal” that we have to adapt to? You can’t shine the ball like before.

I had a chat with Abhishek sir on this. He told me that if we practise a lot with whatever we have, we won’t face many hurdles. So, we need to practise now without shining the ball to see how much it’s moving and what other ways we can improve.

A lot of people feel you are an all-rounder par excellence in the making. How much attention do you put on your batting?

I focus a lot on batting. Abhishek Nayar advised quite a few changes in my batting, basis my strengths and weaknesses. I am working on my drawbacks right now to make them my strength going forward.

When Andre Russell saw you for the first time, he had the impression that you were a little innocent child who would be of no threat to him at the nets. But when you bowled, he was stunned. Did Andre tell you this?

He always used to have very curious expressions on his face whenever we faced each other. He often wondered how I could bowl so fast despite being an U-19 player. I remember, we were at the nets of Eden Gardens and he hit me for a couple of sixes. But I also got four dot balls, so I was happy. Great memories!

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Did you feel like sledging him after those four dot balls?

No, no, never! I can’t think of sledging him, because I consider him as the best batsman of T20 cricket. I have immense respect for him and it will always remain. But yes, I did hit him for a six when I got the chance to bat against him (laughs). He was baffled and kept staring at me like always. It was kind of funny.

You have also been great in the field. Do you recall any incident from your childhood when you might have felt that you were a brilliant fielder too?

When I was in Uttarakhand, I used to play a lot with plastic balls. There was hardly any grass and it was all rocky. I used to dive to save runs even in those conditions. My cousins used to advise me against it but my body reflexes used to get into the act automatically. Bottomline is, I have always enjoyed fielding and worked really hard to get better at it.

Shubman Gill has also been your teammate from the U-19 World Cup days. How has the camaraderie been with him?

We have a great bond. Shubman and Abhishek (Sharma) are my best friends. We used to always hang out together during the World Cup. Even though I had a different roommate, I would often be spotted with Shubman. We met even during U-16 days but I didn’t know much about him, other than the fact that he was a real hard hitter. Then we met on the U-19 journey and became great friends.