India are the senior and junior World Champions in 50-over cricket! This is only the second instance in the history of the game that a country is holding both senior and junior World Cups at the same time, last time it happened in 1987-88 when Australia won the senior world cup (in 1987) and junior world cup (in 1988)in successive years. The game itself has evolved so much from how it was played during the 80’s.There is much more exposure, television coverage, media briefings that a player at an under-19 level gets a taste of what new age international cricket is all about.
Coming to India U-19’s, to beat the favourites and the defending champions, Australia, in Australia is truly a remarkable achievement at any level and young Indians deserve all the accolades. Though cricket is a team game, here’s a look at some of the stand out performers and guys to watch out for in future.
Prashant Chopra: Young man from Himachal Pradesh was the leading run scorer for India U-19 in the tournament till his skipper struck a match winning century in the summit clash against the Aussies.He scored three half centuries, the most by any batsmen in the tournament. The most impressive thing about Chopra is the confidence with which he takes the strike. Even his forward defensive shot oozes authority, it’s like he is telling the bowlers “I’m giving respect to this ball since it deserves it, or else it was gone”. His performance in the U-19 world cup should give Chopra a berth in the first class side of HP from where his long journey starts.
Baba Aparjith: With 171 runs & 5 wickets at an economy rate of 3.6 per over, Baba Aparajith is one among the rare breed of cricketers in India – the all-rounders.He showed tremendous application and calm head on young shoulders in the pressure situation of the quarter final against Pakistan and in the final against Australia, where he steadied the ship after an early loss of Chopra. Ironically it was in these two games only that he played identical loose shots to get out at crucial junctures in the match. Learning to value his wicket and putting a price on it is something he will learn with time. If handled properly, he will stay true to the meaning of his name – Indomitable (Aparajit).
Sandeep Sharma: It was Sandeep Sharma’s 4 wickets which helped India restrict the strong Australian batting line up to 225 in the final before Unmukt Chand stole the limelight. Sandeep Sharma, is capable of moving the ball in the air, which is not surprising since he comes from North of India where conditions favour this type of bowling. Not only was Sharma impressive with the new ball but also with the old one. He showed a cool head under pressure too, be it bowling the last over against the Kiwis in the Semi-Final or a few days earlier while batting in the quarter final against Pakistan during that nerve wrecking 10th wicket partnership with Harmeet Singh.
Ravikant Singh: Ravikant Singh played a game less than Sandeep Sharma but ended with identical number of wickets in the tournament -12.While Sandeep finished at no.6 in the list of top wicket takers; Ravikant finished a spot above Sandeep with a marginally better average of 14.91. As a first change bowler not only did he restrict the opposition with an economy of under 4 runs per over, but also took wickets which is the best way to restrict the opponent in any form of the game. For both Ravikant & Sandeep, hard yards start now as they would be bowling relentlessly on the docile tracks in domestic cricket. With proper training & guidance, they surely have a future.
Smit Patel: India is blessed to have excellent wicket-keeper batsman, both at senior & junior level, both of whom are good finishers too which was evident from what Smit exhibited in the U-19 world cup final against Australia. Though comparing Smit with MS Dhoni is unfair, but early signs from the India U-19 wicket-keeper batsman are promising for sure. With 178 runs at an average of 59 and 14 victims (13 catches & 1 stumping) behind the wicket, Smit has been one of the stand-out performer of the tournament for India. Someone who is yet to play first class cricket, road for Smit is going to be tough considering he comes from Gujarat which already has a former India and a former India U-19 wicket-keeper batsman in its lineup. But if he keeps in mind those famous words from the great Muhammad Ali “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” he would surely come out as a winner.
Harmeet Singh: My first impression after I saw Harmeet bowl in the U-19 world cup was, WOW, spinners are still alive and kicking in India!!! Last time a spinner generated this much excitement was when Harbhajan Singh first came on the horizon during 1997-98 U-19 world cup in South Africa, after which he went on to make his test debut within two months. Whether Harmeet will follow the footsteps of Harbhajan is a different matter, but it won’t be too late before this kid breaks into the senior Indian team.Harmeet’s figures in the tournament (40 overs-5 Maidens-121 runs-6 wickets) might not be the most flattering but the way he flighted the ball and sucked the batsmen into playing a false stroke, was a sight to behold. A sight, so rare in this day and age of heavy bats & slam bang cricket. With the bat in hand, he showed nerves of steel in taking Indian U-19 home, during that sensational quarter final match against the arch rivals. Unlike some of his other U-19 team mates Harmeet has had a great start to his first class career (3 matches & 17 wickets for Mumbai) and with able guidance from someone like Padmakar Shivalkar & Bishan Singh Bedi,Harmeet surely is one to look out for in the future.
Unmukt Chand: Unmukt Chand had under achieved in the world cup by his standards till that final arrived against the Aussies.A century in a world cup final against the host nation on their home turf, during the chase justifies an old adage, “Cometh the hour,cometh the man”. This knock not only catapulted him to no 8 in the list of leading scorers in the tournament but also allowed him to live his dream of winning a world cup.It was one of the finest innings you could wish to see during a chase in such a high profile game.Unmukt, with 11 first class games behind him, not only has that swagger (which is more to do with his self-belief than arrogance) but also a sound head over his shoulders. Besides his cricketing skills, what was equally impressive is the maturity, with which he handled the post-match interviews – all the right ingredients of a leader in the making! Make a note of this name for it won’t be long before Unmukt Chand becomes a household name in a country where cricketers are treated as demi-gods.
These are all gifted cricketers with a bright future and we hope that they are nurtured properly in an era of IPL where instant fame can make or break a career.