Thoughts on transition from U-19 Cricket to senior team

India and West Indies will contest the final of the U-19 World Cup on February 14. A thought came to me on U-19 cricket in general, whether transition to senior team is easy/difficult and how many made it. Here goes;

Can we choose a current 16 member Indian team for both Test matches and One day Internationals exclusively from players who have played U-19 Cricket for India since 2000. Selection is quite easy. Openers slot is occupied by Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Robin Uthappa. For middle order batsmen we have Virat Kohli, Mohd Kaif, Yuvraj, Pujara and Suresh Raina. Rayudu and Venugopal Rao miss out. The two wicket keepers are Dinesh Karthick and Ajay Ratra. Sanju Samson misses out. Ratra i have chosen as i feel he should have been given a longer rope instead of  going in for Parthiv Patel . For spinners we have Ravindra Jadeja and Piyush Chawla while for pace bowlers we have RP Singh, VRV Singh and Jaidev Unadkat. This team of 16 seems like a strong team indeed and shows that U-19 cricket in India does go on to produce cricketers capable of graduating to the highest level.

My interest in U-19 Indian team is from my schooldays when my close friend Ranjib Biswal went to Australia for the youth World Cup in 1988. Members of the team who went on to play for India were Praveen Amre, Subroto Bannerjee, Narendra Hirwani, Nayan Mongia and Venkatpathi Raju. Ranjib too i am sure would have played for India for a few years before Harbhajan Singh burst into the scene. However he quit the game at 25 after becoming Lok Sabha MP. Currently a Rajya Sabha MP he played 1st class cricket for 10 years from age of 15 to 25 and had the unique record of being a sitting Lok Sabha MP who was captain of a Ranji and Duleep Trophy Team. Later of course he became National selector and Manager of the senior team for a glorious period of 18 months when India became Test Number 1 team as well as ODI World Champions.

Coming back to U-19 cricket, those days media was not so active nor cricket the multi-crore industry as it is nowadays. If one sees the last decade, we can note increasing focus on the Junior team and many of the players have gone on to play for India. A brief look at the history of U-19 cricket will throw up interesting points.

The 1988 Youth World Cup incidentally was an U-18 tournament. Then there was a gap of 10 years before ICC made it an U-19 World Cup and restarted it in 1998. The 1988 Tournament itself had some youngsters who went on to become the biggest stars in world cricket. I have named the Indian stars above. Some of the stars of other countries are Brian Lara ( Yes, Lara himself was West Indies U-18 captain in 1988 youth world Cup), Jimmy Adams, Ridley Jacobs, Inzamam Ul Haq, Mike Atherton, Sanath Jayasuriya, Romesh Kaluwitharne, Stuart Law, Chris Cairns, Nasser Hussein and Mark Ramprakash. So wasn’t it a shame that the tournament was discontinued for 10 years? I am sure you will agree it was probably a blunder.

Anyways, after the ICC restarted the U-19 world cup, Australia and India have been the most successful teams with 3 titles each, while Pakistan has won twice, and England and South Africa have won once each. In 1998 when the tournament restarted England won the title, but the shining Star of the event was Chris Gayle. In 2000, India won under captaincy of Mohd Kaif, and man of the series was none other than Yuvraj Singh. Subsequent U-19 World Cups also led to emergence of major talents of world cricket such as Cameron White, Tim Southee and Tatenda Taibu and our very own Virat Kohli.

Is success guaranteed once someone plays the U-19 level for his country and the World Cup. No, it is only the beginning. It is a tough Transition and is not that easy to move on from U-19 cricket to the national team. The pressure, the stress and strain is enormous. Here the most horrifying story is of Jamie Grove of England, who was a member of the victorious English World Cup U-19  winning team of 1998. After he went for 20 runs in a T20 final in 2003 he was given death threats, people used to call him up saying they will rape his wife. Yet his Club refused to allow him to go to the police, finally simply putting a line in the club website that they stood by him. Jamie obviously says “that is not the support i was looking for”. Other stories of course are not as horrifying and are more of maybe missed opportunities. There are many instances of players who were supposed to make it very big in world cricket but just could not do so, such as Owais Shah who has played only 4 Tests and our very own Unmukt Chand, who has played none. We can also include Ambati Rayudu and Reetinder Singh Sodhi as U-19 players who promised much but could not come up to potential.

Coming back to present tournament India’s route to final has been Ireland, New Zealand, Nepal, followed by Quarter Final versus Namibia and  Semi Final versus Sri Lanka. Final is versus West Indies. India will try for their 4th Cup while West Indies will try for their 1st. While one may devalue Namibia and Sri Lanka as opponents, one should not as they reached there by knocking out defending champions South Africa and former Champions England.  The Indian youngsters who are Stars to watch out for are Rishabh Pant, Sarfraz Khan, Armaan Zaffer, Avesh Khan and MK Lomror. I am sure some of them will go on to play for the senior Indian team in future.

One last issue to be discussed here is whether U-19 players should be allowed to play in IPL. 2015 started the trend with Sarfraz Ahmad being “bought” for 50 Lakhs by RCB. This year he was retained. From 1 player in 2015 from the current U 19 team , as many as 6 were selected for IPL teams, 3 for their base price for 10 Lakhs, captain Ishan for 35 lakhs and Opener Rishabh Pant for an astronomical Rs 1.9 crore. The 6th of course is Sarfraz. Dilip Vengsarkar our respected former Captain and Chairman of Selectors has said that U-19 players should not be allowed to play in IPL and this is a major reason for rampant practice of age fraud going on. Rahul Dravid the U-19 coach has also indirectly said that the players should concentrate on cricket only. Whatever decision is taken by BCCI, they should ensure that the route to Indian team should be U-19 and 1st class cricket rather than U-19 and IPL. Since so many stars have come up successfully through the 1st class route, this should definitely not be tampered with, and if it is being done so, should be stopped. I hope BCCI thinks deep on this issue and comes up with practical, acceptable solution for all stakeholders. My personal view is that let youngsters complete their U-19 and then be eligible for IPL for two reasons, 1- that T20 may affect their skills sets, 2- They may be rushed into international cricket without adequate 1st class experience and 3 – too much money at early age they may not be able to handle

Seeing the interest the current tournament has evoked , certain random thoughts came to mind as above which i thought i will pen down. Right now, the focus is on the 2016 World Cup U-19 final on 14th February. India has done well so far and one last effort is required to win the final. Come on team India. Chak de, Jai ho. …….

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