With the countdown to the 12th edition of ICC's U-19 World Cup coming down to less than a week now, the excitement grows at the prospect of seeing the next big stars in action.
The upcoming tournament, the third one to be hosted by New Zealand, will witness 16 teams in action, including associate nations such as Afghanistan, Namibia and Papua New Guinea, with the matches taking place between 13 January and 3 February.
The tournament has a rich legacy of producing champion cricketers in the past, with India discovering stars such as Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli over the years of its existence. However, while the mega-event provides a platform for those who seek an entry into the highest level of the game, there are also those who wither away over a period of time after a promising start, whether it is due to their own lack of performances or the sheer competition for places within a team.
Let us now take a look at five such examples from Indian cricket (listed according to the year in which they appeared in the U-19 World Cup):
Narendra Hirwani (1988): One of the most well-known tales of an Indian talent fizzling out after a spectacular start would be that of Hirwani. Having appeared in the inaugural edition of the tournament alongside future Indian cricketers such as Nayan Mongia and Pravin Amre, Hirwani collected 21 wickets from 12 appearances at a terrific average of 17, including a five-wicket haul.
However, it was his debut that created even more waves: the Gorakhpur-born leggie collected a record 16 wickets for 136 runs against the mighty West Indians at Chennai (then Madras), setting up a massive 255 run-win for the Ravi Shastri-led side. However, it was with the overseas assignments as well as the arrival of spin legend Anil Kumble that he faded away into oblivion.
Reetinder Sodhi (1998, 2000): Punjab all-rounder Sodhi produced performances of note both with bat and ball in the editions that he appeared in. The 1998 event saw him hit a century against Kenya and a match-winning haul of 3/13 against Pakistan. However, it was in the final of the 2000 edition where he really made an impact, hitting an unbeaten 39 against the Sri Lankans to guide Team India to their maiden title, for which he won the 'Man of the Match' award.
The promise that he showed in that final, however, did not quite translate into international success. He made his senior team debut in the home series against Zimbabwe later that year, but a lack of impact meant he could not stay in the Sourav Ganguly-led team for long.
Ajay Ratra (2000): Ratra was part of the victorious Indian team in the 2000 edition of the U-19 World Cup — the first time the Indian colts lifted the title in the history of tournament. Playing under the captaincy of Mohammad Kaif, with the team boasting of future superstars such as Yuvraj Singh, Ratra scored 25 runs from three innings, but it was his work with the gloves that made him stand out — he claimed 19 dismissals (16 catches and three stumpings) to finish on top of the wicket-keeping charts.
Ratra earned a call-up to the senior team at a time when the Indian selectors handed plenty of wicket-keepers chances in the post-Nayan Mongia era. The highlight of his short-lived career would be scoring an unbeaten 115 at Antigua in the 2001-02 tour of the West Indies. However, he eventually lost his place to Parthiv Patel.
Abhishek Sharma (2002, 2004): The other cricketer in the list to have appeared in two editions. Abhishek, however, deserves a special mention for being one of the most successful bowlers in the history of the tournament, and yet remain uncapped to date.
Before making his first appearance, he had already made his presence felt in the Ranji Trophy by becoming Delhi's youngest debutant of all time at the age of 16. In the 2002 edition, he was the highest wicket-taker for India in both editions that he played in, collecting 14 wickets in 2002 on surfaces in New Zealand that aren't quite known to assist spinners. With a total of 26 scalps from 14 matches across the two tournaments, he remains the third highest wicket-taker of all time in the tournament.
Taruwar Kohli (2008): Taruwar was part of the victorious squad in 2008 that was captained by another Kohli — Virat.
The Jalandhar native's performances in that tournament were marked with a touch of consistency as he hit three successive half-centuries while opening the batting, the first one of which was registered against eventual runners-up South Africa. His unbeaten 63 against England in the quarter-final stage was perhaps his most important contribution, for which he won the 'Man of the Match' award. What's interesting to note here is that he had previously never opened at any competitive level.
Luck however, seemed to have deserted him since then, and given the fact that he hardly figures in the selectors' radar at the moment, it will be a very long time before he can shed the tag of being the 'other Kohli'.
Unmukt Chand (2012): The Delhi batsman occupies a special place in India's legacy in the U-19 World Cup, mainly for leading from the front in the team's successful campaign in 2012.
Finishing as the team's highest run-getter in that tournament (246 at 49.20), it was his unbeaten 111 in the final of the tournament at Townsville that would perhaps stand out among the highlights of his career so far, giving the Indians a third title.
Since the U-19 glory, Chand has mainly featured for the India A team, and has proved to be a worthy T20 batsman — having slammed three centuries in the format so far. However, the search for consistency continues for the Delhi lad, and he will perhaps never dream of playing alongside the seniors unless he achieves that first.