The 2020 edition of the ICC U-19 World Cup gets underway on 17 January, with South Africa playing hosts this year. An ideal platform for youngsters to announce their arrival and get on the radar of selectors, the event will feature 16 teams, divided into four groups. India have been placed in Group A alongside Sri Lanka, New Zealand and debutants Japan. The other tournament debutants are Nigeria, who are in Group B with Australia, England and West Indies.
Being defending champions, it will be interesting to see how Priyam Garg-led India fare in their campaign and if they live up to the reputation of being four-time champions.
The event has led to the discovery of quite a few promising lads such as Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill (unearthed from the last edition), who went on to make their debuts for the senior national team not long after and international stalwarts in Virat Kohli, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and many more.
Let us revisit some of the other notable discoveries for Indian cricket from across the history of the U-19 World Cup, arranged in chronological order of the tournament editions in which they appeared:
Virender Sehwag (1998): The dashing opener from Delhi was part of the 1998 campaign that took place in South Africa, where the Indians could only make it to the Super League. It was a forgettable tournament for the 'Nawab of Najafgarh', as he could only collect 76 runs at a measly average of 12.66 with a highest score of 38.
However, there would be less than a handful from a pool of a billion-plus Indians who wouldn’t be aware of his accomplishments at the senior level — being the only Indian cricketer with two triple tons and becoming one of its greatest openers of all time, forming successful partnerships with Sachin Tendulkar in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and Gautam Gambhir in Tests.
Harbhajan Singh (1998): Appearing in the same edition of the U-19 World Cup as Sehwag, ‘Bhajji’ fared relatively better in the squad that eventually gave six international cricketers to the Indian team. He collected eight wickets in the tournament at a healthy average of 21.12. While making his international debut barely a month after the tournament, it was in the 2001 edition of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in which he tasted glory for the first time.
The historic series saw him become the first Indian cricketer to achieve a Test hat-trick, a feat that made him an integral member of the Indian team for more than a decade. As of 2017, he is the third-highest wicket-taker among Indians in Tests with 417 scalps.
Mohammad Kaif (1998, 2000): The first of the two names in this list to have appeared in two U-19 World Cups, Kaif made his presence felt in both tournaments. His key take away from the 1998 edition was scoring 251 runs at a solid average of 62.75, including three half-centuries.
In 2000, he was elevated to captain of the squad that also included future India teammate Yuvraj Singh. Much like Yuvraj, he couldn’t quite establish himself in whites, but became an asset for the Indians in the ODIs. A reliable middle-order batsman and a superb fielder, he became a mainstay during the Sourav Ganguly-era of Indian cricket, appearing in 125 ODIs.
Yuvraj Singh (2000): Yuvraj was among the standout players in the 2000 edition of the tournament, which saw the Indians win their first-ever title, hitting two half-centuries as well as collecting 12 wickets at a stunning average of 11.50. His all-round performance won him 'Player of the Series' award. Yuvraj entered the senior dressing room later that year during the ICC Knockout Tournament, scoring a match-winning 84 in a crunch game against Australia.
While he may not have fulfilled his potential in the Test format, Yuvraj went on to become one of India’s greatest limited-overs batsmen. Some of his most memorable moments include the crucial 69 in the 2002 Natwest Trophy final, the six sixes off Stuart Broad in the 2007 World T20 as well his winning the ‘Player of the Tournament’ award in the 2011 World Cup.
Shikhar Dhawan (2004): The Delhi batsman was part of the 2004 squad, one that was packed with as many as nine future international cricketers. Dhawan’s run in that tournament cannot be described as anything short of incredible. He first established his love for ICC tournaments by finishing as the highest run-getter with 505 runs at an average of 84.16, including three centuries and a half-century.
However, he wasn’t quite fast-tracked into international cricket despite such a run. He had to wait for six years to make his international debut, and nine to truly establish himself as a regular in the team across formats. Today, the dashing batsman is among India’s most reliable opening options, especially with Rohit Sharma in white-ball cricket.
Suresh Raina (2004): Dhawan’s teammate in the 2004 tournament, he had an impressive run with a tally of 247 runs (average 35.28), including three half-centuries. While his scoring rate was nowhere close to that of Dhawan, he earned a call-up into the senior team much earlier, getting picked for the 2005 tri-series in Sri Lanka.
Leaving his problems against the short-ball aside, Raina made his mark as a valuable middle-order batsman with the ability to get important breakthroughs with the ball, not to forget his sharp fielding skills. He also went on to become a core member of the Chennai Super Kings outfit in the Indian Premier League (IPL) under the leadership of MS Dhoni.
Cheteshwar Pujara (2006): The Saurashtra batsman was part of the squad in 2006 — the year that saw India fail to chase down a lowly target set by Pakistan in the summit clash. In that tournament, Pujara gave a fair indicator of the kind of consistency that he would go on to show in international cricket, scoring 349 runs at an average of 116.33, including an unbeaten 129 against England.
However, it would be the Test format in which he would go on to be considered a specialist. A batsman who proved himself on tough conditions such as South Africa and New Zealand, Pujara is currently India’s automatic choice for the No 3 position in the Test team.
Rohit Sharma (2006): The ‘Hitman’ played alongside Pujara in 2006, a tournament in which he got off to a slow start with the bat, but eventually caught up to finish with 205 runs at an average of 41, including three fifties. He made his ODI and T20I debuts the very next year, featuring in India’s victorious run in the inaugural World T20 that took place in South Africa.
The Mumbai batsman had long been backed by both Dhoni and Virat Kohli despite bouts of lean form, with the support eventually paying off as he went on smash one record after another in white-ball cricket, including a breathtaking 264 against Sri Lanka — the highest ODI individual score. As of today, the Mumbai Indians captain is the only batsman in the world with multiple ODI double-tons (3) and boasts of the joint-fastest ton in T20I cricket alongside South Africa's David Miller.
Virat Kohli (2008): The current India captain highlighted his leadership skills back in the 2008 edition, in which he led the team to their second title. His form with the bat, though pale by his current standards, was positive as he collected 235 runs at 47, including a century.
Few would have imagined the levels of superstardom that Kohli would go on to achieve in international cricket. After making his international debut against Sri Lanka later that year, and notching up his first century against the same side at the Eden Gardens a year later, he soon established himself as a run-machine in the side. Among his most remarkable knocks were his 86-ball 133 against the Lankans in the tri-series in Australia, as well as his 183 against Pakistan in the 2012 Asia Cup.
Aside from setting off a revolution with his captaincy, infusing aggression and high fitness levels like never before, Kohli is arguably the finest modern-day limited-overs batsman alongside AB de Villiers. His sensational run in the years 2016 and 2017, finishing as the highest ODI run-getter in the latter, has further cemented his status as a superstar of this game.
Indian fans currently await their team's fate in the upcoming overseas assignments to see if Kohli and Co establish itself as the nation's greatest ever.
Ravindra Jadeja (2006, 2008): The other player in this list to have made two U-19 World Cup appearances, Jadeja experienced more success with the ball than he did with the bat in the two editions — collecting a total of 14 wickets at an average of 13.57. He did shine with the bat, though in domestic cricket as he went on to become the only Indian batsman with three first-class triple-centuries.
While he made himself an integral part of the Dhoni-led CSK team, it was only after his spectacular run in the 2015 home Test series against South Africa in which he established himself as a leading bowling all-rounder in the Indian team, forming a deadly partnership with off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, with whom he often bowls long, destructive spells in tandem.
Shubman Gill (2018): The right-handed batsman top-order batsman was the vice-captain of the India Under-19 squad in the 2018 edition and played a pivotal hand in leading them to their fourth title victory, the most by any side. Displaying remarkable consistency, Gill amassed 372 runs from six matches (including a century and three half-centuries) and finished with a staggering average of 124. He was also adjudged the Player of the Tournament for his heroics with the bat.
Known for using the bottom hand to good effect, Gill was among the most sought after youngsters in the 2018 IPL auctions, where he was finally bought by KKR for I.8 crore. He made his first-class debut for Punjab in the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy season, wherein he announced his arrival with a half-century against Bengal and struck a blistering ton in his next game against Services.
Gill was finally rewarded for his good form in January 2019, when he made his ODI debut against New Zealand. While he hasn’t made much of an impact from the two ODIs he’s played, he remains a regular in the India A squad and a promising talent.
In August 2019, he became the youngest batsmen to score a first-class double ton, playing for India A during the third Test against West Indies A.
Prithvi Shaw (2018): Here’s another youngster who likes to let his bat do the talking. Shaw was the skipper of the victorious India Under-19 World Cup squad in 2018, wherein he struck 261 runs from six matches at an impressive average of 65.25.
The Mumbai batsmen impressed on the domestic front and caught the attention of selectors after he smashed centuries on debut in both Ranji Trophy (2016-17) and the Duleep Trophy (2017).
The 20-year-old shone on his Test debut in 2018, when he smashed a century against West Indies at Rajkot, thereby becoming the second-youngest to do so after Sachin Tendulkar. In the 2018 IPL auctions for 2018, he was bought by Delhi Daredevils for 1.2 crores.
Shaw was banned from all forms of cricket by the BCCI for a (retrospective) period of eight months in July 2019 after failing a dope test. More recently, in his comeback match, he smashed 63 of 39 balls in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, a knock that helped Mumbai thrash Assam by 83 runs.
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