‘Hopefully, it's a memory they cherish for a long time, but hopefully, not the lasting memory and they have many more great moments and bigger things in future,’ said Rahul Dravid after India’s 2018 U-19 World Cup win. It is not the only lasting memory that they have, and then the journey begins.
The quote kick starts off the point that is going to be highlighted throughout this article, the U-19 World Cup is just a journey for a cricketer and not a destination. While some teams have prioritised the destination part of the World Cup, the others have had a mellow tournament and still managed to ride the tide. The tide that takes you to the senior level and the ride, that takes dedication, hours and hours of hard work where even the minutest of seconds make a huge difference. Even then, the players have not yet reached the destination, in cricket, the destination is often a myth, like religion in reality. But let us leave that for another time.
Back-to-back U-19 World Cup wins, top run-scorer and being the captain of the tournament does to equate to the number of matches that you would go on to play for your country. Even a tournament victory does not account to anything at the senior level if players can not break through to the national team, years into the future. On August 2, 2012, India faced rivals Australia in the finals of the U-19 World Cup. The stage was set, Unmukt Chand and co were set, Australia were still rubbing their eyes to a World Cup final appearance. What made the tournament more interesting, and weighed a lot on the shoulders of Chand was India’s 2011 World Cup victory. The whole nation erupted when MS Dhoni finished off the game against Sri Lanka, and similarly, all eyes were hooked onto the TV screens.
India got off to the best of starts on the day, winning the toss, then winning session after session opting to bowl first. If not for William Bosisto, Travis Head and Ashton Turner, Australia would have given up mid-way in the finals. However, the trio accounted for more than 1.5 times the rest of the team scored. To make it easier, they scored 133 runs of the 225 that the Bosisto’s side had scored against India. And, India being India, combined ruthlessness alongside technique and served Australia a masterclass on how to bat. In particular, the captain Chand was on the money right from the word ‘go.’ He made several youngsters believe that cricket is a viable sport in India to make it on a professional level.
Eight years down the line, Chand has become ‘irrelevant’ and so has Baba Aparajith before an Indian selection. Moreso, the player who failed on the night, Hanuma Vihari made it to the Indian setup. It proves the point that the tournament is just a journey, a journey after which you have a trek to climb the mountain- a cap for your country. Despite the trophy being gold, all that is gold does not glitter. If you google Unmukt Chand, you will find ‘Where Is Unmukt Chand? What Happened To India's World Cup-winning U19 Captain?’ first on the search list.
Let’s travel even further, back to 2008, on March 2, a South African side took on India in the U-19 final. India were put to bat and the result, early wickets for the Virat Kohli led side. Taruwar Kohli and Sreevats Goswami failed, a Tanmay Srivastava stood tall amidst the crumbling Indian pie. Virat, Manish Pandey, Ravindra Jadeja and Pradeep Sangwan all scored in the mid-20s, while some under-20. But in retrospect, all of them were Under-19, waiting for the big leap to the next level. Three of them from the team made the big leap, Virat, Pandey and Jadeja became mainstays of the T20I team, and Kohli, a member of the fab four. On that note, let us shift to the larger point, the fab four. The glorious trio consists of Kohli, Kane Williamson and Steve Smith. All of them have one thing in common between them, not just the runs, but the year ‘2008.’
2008 could be very well cricket’s ‘Class of 92,’ however, not for a single team here but a collective of individuals going on to star in the future. If Australia had to prioritize between wanting Smith as a future star or getting the World Cup win, they would go all-out on the former option. And, that is exactly what the platform has to offer for the national sides. Talents, who would go on to become a mainstay in the batting and bowling lineup. New Zealand were narrowly defeated in the semi-finals at the hands of India, yet they had the last laugh when Kane Williamson and Kohli faced off each other in the Summer of 2019, at the Cricket World Cup.
While Williamson and Kohli were fighting it out against each other to get a crack at the best seats, it was already occupied by Joe Root and the English side which finished eighth in the 2009 edition of the U-19 World Cup. Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler were part of the English side, which could not even salvage a place higher than eighth in the tournament. Then, they lost against the Kiwi side, which had Jimmy Neesham and Tom Latham, the names that England were going to go past in the 2019 World Cup, where life came to a full-circle. “The platform is a launchpad for greatness,” and exactly where England excelled while the best of sides failed to capitalise on the momentum.
In football, Celtic’s prodigy Karamoko Dembele is already playing for the senior side at 16 years, despite being years younger than the others in the squad. Being just half as tall as the senior-pros, the left-footed youngster has made three appearances for the senior side. 67 minutes, and has been part of the reserve side ever since showing sparks at the lower level. He plays for the U-19 side, being aged only 16. In a reserve side, whose average age is around 19.3 years. Right from his debut as a 14-year-old, the left-footed player has thrown the age-barrier out of the window with his dazzling display. This example has nothing to do with cricket, you may wonder? Well, it is connecting you to a fundamental idea, and that is if Dembele had played U-16 football for the longest time, he would have played against players who are on standards lower than the winger himself. Dembele would have cut-across and picked the back of the nets, every passing time. However, after he was promoted, he learnt it the harder way, only getting 67 minutes of appearance at the biggest level.
“One month after announcing the team for the ICC U-19 World Cup 2020, the Pakistan Cricket Board has withdrawn 16-year-old fast-bowler Naseem Shah, on the grounds of him having already made his senior team debut in November last year,” read an ICC statement regarding the Pakistani youngster Naseem Shah.
All of this came before the tournament, despite the fact that he would have strengthened the side immensely, the Pakistan selectors decided to go to the event without the speedster. Pakistan Cricket Board’s chief executive officer, Wasim Khan revealed that the World Cup is a stepping stone to the senior cricket, to the national team. Wasim went on to add that the youngster has already made his appearance for the national team and that is the end goal of the U-19 tournament.
“Naseem has recently broken that glass ceiling and has established his credentials as an international cricketer. As such, the PCB has taken a pragmatic approach and decided to withdraw him from next year's competition to provide this opportunity to another promising cricketer,” he added.
4 February 2020, India have defeated and rolled past the Pakistan side by ten wickets, with the arch-rivals pace attack being battered all over the park by the Indian openers. Yashasvi Jaiswal and Divyansh Saxena scored 176 together for the opening wicket and ensured they got home with a ten-wicket victory. For the entire world, India won the encounter and are favourites going into the World Cup. However, the entire world has a very skewed approach to cricket, and if you ask the minor communities, they will tell you that Pakistan won the World Cup even without winning the semi-finals. They have cracked the only code of U-19 cricket, putting the players onto the next level, increasing the players coming through the system.
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