Who are Arzan Nagwaswalla and Abhimanyu Easwaran?

Abhimanyu Easwaran's poor form continued PTI

The list of stand-by players in India's touring party to England includes two players familiar to India fans thanks to the IPL, in Prasidh Krishna and Avesh Khan, and two slightly less-known names: Abhimanyu Easwaran and Arzan Nagwaswalla. They will likely only get opportunities in the Indians' intra-squad games while on tour, but it should still be quite an experience for the two players, one a captain of a Ranji Trophy side with 64 first-class matches against his name, and the other just 16 first-class matches old.

'I want to come back to India a better player'
Until a couple of seasons ago, Abhimanyu was thought of as a contender for the India Test team. But after a 2018-19 Ranji Trophy season in which he totalled 861 runs at an average of 95.66, there came a big dip in 2019-20 - 258 runs from 17 innings, an average of just 17.20, and a best of 62.

But, clearly, the opener who leads Bengal hasn't fallen off the radar of the national selectors.

"I was in the squad, in the reserves, for the [2020-21] England Tests too, and that was a great learning experience for me, just being there, spending time in the dressing room, watching everyone…" he says. "I enjoyed my time there - how they prepare, just watching Virat Kohli's intensity at training was an education.

"There were things I hadn't seen before - for example, Rohit Sharma saw the pitch and focused on his sweep shot, [R] Ashwin did the same… they were so clear about their plans."

And though he isn't in the main squad of 20 for the tour of England - plus the World Test Championship final against New Zealand - he wants to be as prepared as possible, because "you never know, just in case an opportunity comes up".

It's not just words. Abhimanyu has shifted to Dehradun, where his father runs a cricket academy, and is training in conditions "somewhat simulated to what we will expect in England". He was expecting the call for England, he said, so the training plan was in place well before the formal announcement came.

"We have seven bowlers, some from the Uttarakhand team - including offspinner Gaurav Chaudhary - who have all come in after Covid-19 tests, and we have a grassy pitch here, which I am batting on. Plus, we are using some cheap balls along with the SG balls, because those swing more," Abhimanyu says. "I was playing a bit in Kolkata, but it was difficult to train there [because of Covid-19], so I shifted here, where I can train.

"We are trying whatever we can. Batting early in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, at all times, five-six hours every day, and other drills too. So that I am ready. And even if I don't get chances there, I want to come back to India a better player."

He is acutely aware that he has had a poor season - not to mention a season of little cricket because of the pandemic - and that it came at a time when he might have been pushing for higher honours. "It wasn't ideal, but it happens to everyone," he says. "Right now, I am batting really well. I am getting into good positions now.

"Importantly, I am feeling good. I feel happier about my body and my fitness, so I think I am in a good place."

'Surprising and exciting'
Nagwaswalla's stint as a net bowler with the Mumbai Indians at IPL 2021 ended prematurely when Covid-19 halted the tournament. On Friday, he was on his way back home when his phone rang.

"It was a call from the BCCI secretary [Jay Shah], saying my name could be on the list of stand-bys for India's tour of England," Nagwaswalla, 23, tells ESPNcricinfo. "I hadn't expected something like that could happen so early in my career. So it was surprising and exciting."

Gujarat's Nagwaswalla is three seasons old in domestic cricket. He is not express but "can go up to 135kph". In his short first-class career so far, the left-arm seamer has picked up 62 wickets at an average of 22.53 and a strike rate of 44.6. Those numbers become even more impressive when one considers he mostly bowls first change.

Nagwaswalla isn't fussed about bowling with the new ball. While he can swing it, bowling with the older ball has, perhaps, contributed to "patience" becoming a key strength. "I like to bowl to a plan and set a batsman up," he says.

The Ranji Trophy couldn't be held last season because of the pandemic, so Nagwaswalla focused his energies on white-ball cricket, the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20s and the 50-overs Vijay Hazare Trophy. In the latter tournament, he was given the new ball and finished as the second-highest wicket-taker overall with 19 wickets from seven games at a hugely impressive average of 13.94.

After the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, during which he picked up a career-best 6 for 19 against Maharashtra, Nagwaswalla was called for trials by the Mumbai Indians and the Rajasthan Royals. He didn't find any takers at the IPL auction but the Mumbai Indians recruited him as a net bowler, and he not only got the exposure of bowling to the likes of Rohit Sharma and Kieron Pollard but also had a chance to catch up with his idol Zaheer Khan.

"I interacted a lot with him [Khan] at the Mumbai Indians. He told me that most things with my bowling were fine and asked me to focus more on my training, saying that would also help me in my bowling."

At the start of the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy season, Nagwaswalla told Star Sports that he loved playing matches that were broadcast live on TV. Does it still excite him? "That's natural," he says with a laugh. "More people watch those games. My family also watches. Even my record is pretty good in those games."

Whenever Nagwaswalla's name appears in the news, his Parsi identity generally gets more attention than his bowling exploits. "Yeah, that happens but I don't really mind it. It has been quite a few years since a Parsi cricketer represented India. So, in a way, it has given me sort of a recognition in the community."

(Abhimanyu Easwaran spoke to Shamya Dasgupta and Arzan Nagwaswalla to Hemant Brar)