The Board of Control for Cricket in India held a nice felicitation ceremony to celebrate the Indian teams triumph at the under-19 World Cup. They gave the promised prize money to the team (Rs 20 lakhs for each player) and coaching staff (Rs 15 lakhs for each member of the support team) within a few hours of them landing. Thankfully, there won’t be any running from door-to-door to get what is due to them.
But at almost every step, while the youngsters were encouraged and congratulated, the BCCI sounded out a note of warning: Don’t get carried away by the hype. Continue to work hard. There’s a lot more that you can achieve.
It was rather fitting to have the BCCI send out this message. The celebrations didn’t have the manic energy that accompanies every Team India triumph. Rather it was to the point and muted in every respect. Good thing too.
BCCI secretary Sanjay Jagdale, while speaking to Firstpost, made a simple point: “Over the next 2-3 years, many of these young cricketers will simply disappear. The challenge of breaking into the Ranji teams is a tough one and that is something we don’t want these boys to forget. Up to this point, they are playing in a restricted category of sorts – everyone they face is under-19. But once they step into the Ranji world, they will face opponents who are very experienced.”
“Some of these boys won’t make it to their Ranji teams for two years, maybe more. Can they survive that time on the outside? Can they continue to practice hard? Can they hold on to their dream of playing for India? The key word for me is ‘survive’, because it will take them time to adapt and find their feet. Of course, some of them will take 2-3 steps forward and make themselves contenders for an India ‘A’ or even India spot. But it is a slow process,” added Jagdale.
Players like Unmukt Chand and Harmeet Singh have already played some Ranji cricket and many, including former Australia skipper Ian Chappell and former Pakistan skipper Wasim Akram, feel that at least some of the lads are ready for big time.
But are they? Is it too early to push them into the deep end?
Jagdale, who is also a former national selector, believes that ideally they should all play first-class cricket for at least 2-3 years before they are considered for selection.
“Everyone says that the difference between the under-19 and senior level is maturity. But how are they going to become mature? It is by playing against quality competition and spending time in the middle. Even the World Cup that we’ve won is a one-day competition. Playing three-day or four-day cricket is a different game altogether. You don’t want them to be caught short later in their careers. An incomplete education can be pretty dangerous.”
India has one of the best systems in place for junior cricket. There are tournament under-15, 17, 19, 22 levels and even Rahul Dravid says that nowhere else in the world do junior cricketers play as much cricket as they do in India. And that is primarily the reason why the Indian players are technically a lot better than most of their counterparts.
Every under-19 team throws up a few players into India reckoning. The 1998 event in South Africa saw Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, LR Shukla and Amit Bhandari make the cut, while the 2000 edition had Mohammed Kaif, RS Sodhi (both were in the 1998 team too), Yuvraj Singh and Ajay Ratra progress to the senior grade. From the 2002 event, in New Zealand, Parthiv Patel and Irfan Pathan made the grade.
In 2004, Ambati Rayudu, Robin Uttappa, Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina, RP Singh, Dinesh Karthik thrust themselves on the national scene. The 2006 event threw up Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma and Piyush Chawla. The 2008 event saw Virat Kohli emerge as a star player but the likes of Saurabh Tiwary and Ravindra Jadeja also managed to make it to the national team.
But even while the under-19 team is an important step in their careers, the players need to realise that in the real world, this victory will count for little.
“For example, there was a lot of praise for Harmeet and the way he bowls. But it was mostly due to the fact that there are few spinners at the tournament like him and perhaps few of the batsmen would have ever played spinners who have good control over flight and loop,” said Jagdale. “In first-class cricket, though, there will be others like him. Can he succeed there too?”
For skipper Unmukt Chand, who has already been picked for India’s A team that will tour New Zealand in September, the challenge will be even greater. He has already been hyped up as the next big thing and through this all; he needs to find a way to stay grounded.
“I would only say that give them time, they have the raw talent but what can they make of it?” asked Jagdale.
Indeed, in a short while, the young cricketers will get back to their daily grind. The U-19 World Cup triumph will quietly fade away from public memory. but it will continue to inspire them and millions of other young cricketers to take up cricket. And in a sense, that’s success too.