At the highest level of sport, you don’t win silver, you lose gold. But there are situations and circumstances in which winning is not everything. Under-19 cricket is a classic example of this. In recent times, the Under-19 World Cup has grown in significance, not only because the International Cricket Council has bundled it with its marquee senior events but also because it is seen as the quickest short cut to international colours.
But, the role of Under-19 cricket is so much more than country versus country. It is more a barometer of the health of the game in a nation. In that sense, India had already won, long before Prithvi Shaw’s colts breezed past Australia in the final at Mount Manganui in New Zealand.
The interesting thing about this Indian Under-19 team, in comparison with some others in the past, is that there has been little sign of irregularity in terms of age-fudging, a problem that has blighted subcontinental age-group cricket over the years. This is not by chance. New regulations put in place by the Board of Control for Cricket in India, at the suggestion of Rahul Dravid, the Under-19 coach, mean that a player can feature only in one Under-19 World Cup, irrespective of whether he is still eligible, two years or more down the road.
“Being allowed to play only one U-19 World Cup will mean people are less motivated to alter the age. Honestly, U-19 cricket should be more about exposure and less about results,” said Dravid. “The focus should be on giving more youngsters an opportunity to play rather than on winning. And that’s what this new rule will result in. The long term results of this step will far outweigh the potential loss of results in the short term.”
In that sense, India’s best interests have been served. Shaw, the captain, is a dead certainty to play for India, the only question being when he will be blooded. Aside from his performances at the Under-19 level, he has five first class hundreds and three fifties to his name from only nine games.
If Shaw’s destiny seemed pre-ordained since the time he burst into the limelight as a 14-year-old prodigy who slammed 546 off 330 balls in a Harris Shield match in Mumbai for his school, Rizvi Springfield, the tournament has given others a chance to show their worth too.
Shubman Gill, who some have compared to a right-handed Yuvraj Singh for the manner in which his bat flows freely through the air, had scores of 63, 90*, 86 and 102*, the century coming against Pakistan, the ultimate test of success for an Indian cricketer. Gill has also had a taste of first class cricket, scoring a hundred and a fifty in the two matches he played for Punjab.
Manjot Kalra was the toast of the country in the final, cracking a stirring century. Kalra, who carved Australia’s batsmen through the off side with exceptional placement and timing, and carted loose balls into the stands, is another one who will be watched closely, not only by Indian Premier League scouts, who have already endorsed his ability with selection in the Delhi Daredevils squad.
The most exciting development, however, from the Under-19 World Cup, is the pace that Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi have generated. It is not always prudent to take what the speed guns tell you on face value, and though the pair have been clocked at 140+ kmh, it is the manner in which they have hurried batsmen that will have coaches sitting up and taking notice. If the pair can do the same beyond the Under-19 level you can be sure opportunities will open up at a higher level. Nagarkoti is wiry and will add muscle, and possibly with it pace, with proper guidance and care, but already his load-up and action are reminiscent of S Sreesanth. Mavi, thought surplus to requirement by Delhi at the Under-16 level, delivered a ball clocked at 146 kmh. Even if you give that a 10% discount, he will be mixing it with the big boys sooner rather than later.
Amidst the buzz generated by the batting beauties and the fast teenagers, Anukul Roy has been steady, accurate and disciplined with his left-arm spin, picking up wickets and lending stability and control to the team. And, with this, it does seem that India have all bases covered. Dravid has not delivered just a World Cup win —something that eluded him all his playing days — he has laid the foundation for India’s continued success in the years to come.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick.