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An interview with U-19 star Jakob Bhula

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Jakob_Bhula_New_Zealand_Cricket_U19Remember the name - Jakob Jarrod Naran Patel Bhula.

The 18-year-old college boy from Wellington took the 2018 Under-19 Cricket World Cup by storm when he smashed 180 off 144 balls, taking New Zealand to 436 runs, the second highest team total in tournament history. Jakob himself made history as his score was the highest individual score at the U-19 World Cup. Although Sri Lanka's Hasitha Boyagoda broke Jakob's world record a few days later, when he blasted 191 off 152 balls, Jakob will always be remembered as the boy who first broke the record during the 2018 U-19 World Cup.

The hosts, New Zealand, were unbeaten in the group matches. As all their victories were won by large margins, they were considered one of the favourites to win the tournament. Unfortunately, their tournament did not end in triumph. Underdogs Afghanistan, shocked them in the quarter-final, following which they lost the matches for fifth and seventh place too.

Although the team bowed out of the tournament on a losing note, their opening batsman Jakob had done enough for his quality to be recognized globally. Bhula was the only New Zealander from their current U-19 side picked to attend the MCC Young Cricketers programme. The programme, conducted by the elite club, has allowed the youngsters to enjoy "expert coaching, intensive playing programmes and world-class facilities."

In conversation with Holdingwilley.com, Jakob takes us though his journey from playing with a plastic bat at home to representing New Zealand in the Under-19 World Cup.

"I started playing cricket at the age of three, mostly in the living room or the backyard of our house. As far as I remember, I began playing cricket with a yellow plastic bat and tennis ball. My dad would play with me all the time from what I can remember."

Jakob was born on December 12, 1998 in the city of Wellington in New Zealand. As his name suggests, he is partly of Indian descent. His paternal grandparents hailed from Gujarat and while he can understand the regional language of 'Gujarati,' he cannot speak it. Jakob has a younger sister, Bryanna Bhula, and like most older brothers, he was always after his sister to play cricket with him at home.

 

"I actually paid her 50 cents one time when I was younger to bowl to me for an hour; good deal I say (laughs). She is not into sports but she indeed had a nice time throughout my World Cup."

 

Growing up, Jakob loved and played both football (soccer) and cricket, and had to make a choice. By the time he turned 13, he was sure that he would follow a professional career in cricket. But he kept football a part of his life, playing with his friends during the summer. He follows and supports Liverpool, an English Club, and the Spanish national football team.
 
Jakob is the first cricketer in his family and has had a huge deal of support from his father, Jeetesh Bhula. An ardent cricket follower, Jeetesh did, and still does, everything possible to bring Jakob on the top in the sport. Jeetesh always bonded with Jakob’s coaches to understand how he could help Jakob whenever a coach wasn't around.

 

Speaking of his beginnings, Jakob said, "Ivan Tissera was my first coach. He was a very technical coach, so with his and my dad's help, I formed a very stable and strong technique from such a young age."

 

After Jakob's game was recognized at the school level, he started playing for Karori CC, a regional club in Wellington. In 2015, he played his maiden overseas tournament as the only cricketer from North Island College picked for the Willows Cricket Club's youth tour, which played at venues in Sri Lanka and Thailand.

"The conditions in Sri Lanka and Thailand were very different to New Zealand with a hotter climate and more abrasive pitches so I really learnt a lot on the trip."

He then made it to the Wellington Under-17 team before he joined the domestic team's Under-19 squad. Prior to the selection of the New Zealand squad for the U-19 World Cup, New Zealand Cricket conducted a national U-19 tournament. Jakob was among the several players who took part, hoping to make it to the national U-19 team for the big event.

"Luckily I scored a few runs at the national tournament and was lucky enough to be picked for the side. It was also my birthday the day I got selected for New Zealand U-19, so it was probably the best birthday I have ever had. I was still quite shocked even a couple of days after, but after that I knew that I still had to work hard in order to be successful on the world stage."

Recollecting the day when he received his BlackCaps cap before the U-19 World Cup, Jakob recalled that two players from the national men's team visited them to give them their caps.

 

"Our capping ceremonies had Trent Boult and Tom Latham come in as guests to present the caps to us which was very special. They shared their experiences in the U-19 World Cup and gave us some advice on dealing with certain scenarios. We also had All Black [rugby player for New Zealand] Israel Dagg present us with caps before the Kenya match which was an awesome experience as well.".

 

When asked about the dressing room of the New Zealand U-19 side, Jakob said, "The dressing room is very relaxed. A lot of music is played and we do [a lot of] practical jokes with each other which make it even more fun. I have my lucky seats at Hagley Oval and Bay Oval and I always prefer to sit there only."

Prior to the U-19 World Cup, Jakob always batted either at No. 3 or 4. However, his position changed just a few months before the start of the ICC tournament. "I only got told to open last year by New Zealand cricket. I took the opportunity to help expand my game. I loved the feel of hitting the new ball and if I got in, had the opportunity to bat 50 overs which is an awesome thing to do."

Talking about his memorable knock of 180 off 144 balls against Kenya, Jakob said, "The record score I got is still pretty surreal to me. I never thought I'd get my highest score let alone a record score at the World Cup. I was ably supported by Rachin and Finn which did help a lot and to put on a world record team score was also very special."

The New Zealand U-19 side was coached by Paul Wiseman, who ended his international career in 2005 with 40 international caps for New Zealand. As an all-rounder, he was the best person to guide Jakob, a fellow all-rounder.

 

"Paul is very good coach, who has also helped a lot with my spin bowling. He has always encouraged us experiment with our game but most importantly, enjoy whatever we did."

 

Jakob was New Zealand's fourth spinner at the World Cup, picking three wickets from the six matches with his offbreaks.

"It adds another dimension to me as a cricketer and the modern game demands you to be good at two or three facets of the game. But, batting will always be my main attribute, for sure."

Jakob and the other New Zealand cricketers should be proud of the ruthless and dominant brand of cricket they displayed during the U-19 World Cup, but they failed to absorb the pressure when it was needed the most.

All these tiny lessons will be learnt and will help Jakob evolve as a better cricketer during his much-awaited stint with the MCC Youth Programme that is expected to begin by April in England. Apart from Jakob, Ben Sears – who was a part of the 2016 U-19 World Cup – is the only New Zealand cricketer who will take part in the programme.

Before signing off, Jakob Bhula said that he aims to emulate his all-time favourite cricketer, Australian great Ricky Ponting, as his mindset and batting style has always inspired him.

 

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