Utsav a cricket talent to watch

Tauranga Intermediate are on their way again to the NZ Post Cup finals in Christchurch in November

Tauranga Intermediate School student Utsav Kumar has the look of someone who has many memorable moments ahead of him in his chosen sport of cricket.

But 180 off 115 balls against a touring Australian team is not a bad one to start with.

“I know that Utsav doesn’t just like cricket, he loves it,” says the school’s first XI coach Aubrey Jeftha.

He certainly loved the bowling of the visitors from across the ditch.

They were a good team too, Aubrey says. Like all Aussie teams that make their way across the Tasman tend to be, they were no slouches, selected from a number of schools from the Central Coast area north of Sydney.

They were over here recently for the opportunity to experience cricket in a foreign land, but this wasn’t perhaps the kind of experience they had in mind.

Their bowling attack was no match for Utsav. Opening the batting in the first of three matches, a 40-over encounter, Utsav proceeded to take them apart at a strike rate of 156.5 runs per hundred balls - the sort of scoring rate top international batsmen would be proud of.

Then, proving it was no one-off, he followed it up with 80 in the second match, a T20.

But there was no slogging about Utsav’s batting, Aubrey says. “It was classy, really classy.”

Aubrey is a good judge of young cricketing potential. He’s been coaching the first XI at the school, which claims current Blackcap Trent Boult and former internationals Doug Bracewell and Daniel Flynn among its cricketing alumni, for 11 years.

In that time they've qualified six times for the finals of the New Zealand Post Cup, the national competition for intermediate school age boys, as the Northern Districts region representative.

They’re off to Christchurch for the finals again in November, and working hard to bring back their fourth title. They have a good chance of doing it too, if their record against the touring Central Coast team is any indicator.

In the first match they posted an extraordinary total of 339 in their 40 overs, thanks in no small part to Utsav’s 180, then restricted the Aussies to 225.

They then played two T20s which followed a similar pattern, with Tauranga Intermediate batting first and posting too many for the visitors to chase down. They won the first by 89 runs and the second by 48.

Aubrey says Utsav’s 180 is the highest innings ever scored by a Tauranga Intermediate batsman, and he’s never seen anyone quite like him.

“He has a very mature cricket brain for a boy of his age,” admits Aubrey. “He normally plays the ball on merit but is quite aggressive with any short pitch deliveries.

“Utsav displays great temperament at the crease. His batting has reached heights which very few players his age can comprehend.”

Utsav, whose favourite players to watch are Kane Williamson and Indian master Virat Kohli, has a clear plan in mind when he practices.

“Focusing on my weaknesses and fitness,” he says. “I always ask my coaches and teammates if they can tell me where I can improve.

“My Dad says play your natural game, don’t be afraid of the bowler, watch the ball and everyone will watch you.”

And it’s all with a clear goal in front of him. “Making and performing well in Coastlands (Western Bay of Plenty age group rep teams) as a batsman and bowler,” he admits, “and to make the Northern Districts under-14 and under-17 teams and then eventually the under-19 New Zealand team.

“My main goal is to one day make the Blackcaps as an opening batsman.”

For now, helping his Tauranga Intermediate team to the national title in Christchurch takes top priority. That means hours of practice a week, says Aubrey.

“We practice a lot – basically every lunchtime, as well as after school on Thursdays and Fridays.

“We pride ourselves on our fielding and bowling. That’s where we put the pressure on other teams.”

With Utsav at the top of the order, they can probably safely assume they’ll be pressuring the opposition with their batting as well.