In 2008, a 19-year-old called Kohli took the field in an U-19 Cricket World Cup. By the time the tournament ended, he had scored 218 runs in six matches which included three consecutive fifties and lifted the trophy, of course. Today he is 27 and hasn't made his India debut yet. His name is Taruwar Kohli.
In a galaxy where stars are meant to be born, the truth is that many fade away even before they get a chance shine. The cricket world views the U-19 World Cup as a crystal ball to gaze into the future. The event is hyped as an opportunity to see the future stars of international cricket battle it out in the present.
However, the truth remains that for every Chris Gayle (top scorer in 1998), Yuvraj Singh (Player of the Tournament in 2000) or Virat Kohli (captain of the winning team in 2008) that emerges from the U-19 World Cup, a significant number never make the cut to the next level. Moving from the U-19 team to playing for your national side, especially in India is an exception rather than the norm.
In fact, back in March 2008 at a function at the Chinnaswamy Stadium to honour the Virat Kohli led winning Indian U-19 team, the present U-19 India coach - Rahul Dravid - cautioned the boys saying, “I played for the U-19s in 1991, and was the only one in my team to go on and play for India.”
Not many people say it but the road to becoming an international cricketer is not a guaranteed path, even for the most talented junior stars. And in a country like India that path is even harder simply because you are jostling for space. The path you are running on has hundred other equally talented boys, all moving towards the same goal. Very few break out of the pack and move ahead, most just simply start becoming a part of the crowd, the one who could have been, the one who once played with the guy who took big strides and went far ahead.
Three-time champions India have begun their campaign in this eleventh edition of the ICC U-19 World Cup against Ireland on Thursday. As it was for their predecessors, this will be their first taste of real international cricket for most boys. For many it will also be the first time they will play under the glare of the camera, experts and fans. And for some it might just be the last time.
Unmukt Chand, captain of the 2012 U-19 World Cup team once said, “The U-19 is a special feeling. It is the most important moment of your junior career. At that point you realize you have it in you to graduate to the next level. However soon you realize that not everyone in your team is going to play for India. That is an ambition we all have but a lot of factors have to align to make that happen. While winning the U-19 was a special moment in my career it is in the last 2-3 years of my domestic and list A career that I have faced ups and downs and learned extremely valuable lessons. The U-19 is a start, there is a long journey ahead of that. ”
So while each of these boys will have a bat and ball in their hands and dreams in their eyes for a national call up, it is important to make them realize the gap between international cricket and U-19 cricket is vast and the pressure on the biggest stage is of a different kind altogether.
As their coach Dravid says, “The important thing is you have to go on from here, score runs in first-class cricket, score runs in List A games and then get the recognition from the selectors.”
These young men must dream and aspire to scale new peaks but it is also critical that we the fans, the coaches, the cricket experts and the media keep reminding these boys that for every Yuvraj Singh there was a Reetinder Singh Sodhi and for every Virat Kohli there is a Taruwar Kohli.