Mohammad Kaif, Virat Kohli, Unmukt Chand, Prithvi Shaw. 2000, 2008, 2012, 2018.
India might be the ‘superpower’ of modern day men’s cricket, but there is only one global tournament where they actually lead the charts – the ICC Under-19 World Cup. As the 13th edition of the future-depicting competition kicked off in South Africa, another batch of Indian colts – led this time by Priyam Garg – will be raring to further India’s record grip on the event.
Let’s set the scene as India embark upon their title defence at the 2020 ICC Under-19 World Cup.
A rich history to carry forward
India’s dominance of the Under-19 World Cup extends beyond just the title wins, of which they have four (ahead of Australia’s three); no other team has more appearances in finals (six), or more matches won (58), or a better win percentage (76.3) than India over the 12 editions of the tournament.
For those into omens, though, the Indian colts haven’t historically carried the weight of defending champions very well; after each of their first three titles – in 2000, 2008 and 2012 – India’s title defence in the succeeding event was brought to an end at the first knockout hurdle (semis in 2002, quarters in 2010 and 2014).
Stars from U-19 World Cups past
1988: Nayan Mongia, Venkatapathy Raju, Narendra Hirwani
1998: Mohammad Kaif, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh
2000: Mohammed Kaif, Yuvraj Singh
2002: Parthiv Patel, Irfan Pathan
2004: Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik, Robin Uthappa, RP Singh
2006: Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Piyush Chawla
2008: Virat Kohli, Manish Pandey, Ravindra Jadeja
2010: Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Jaydev Unadkat
2012: Hanuma Vihari
2014: Shreyas Iyer, Kuldeep Yadav
2016: Rishabh Pant, Washington Sundar
2018: Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill
The batch of 2020
It’s a reflection of just how early they’ve started booming these days that five of the Indian 15-man squad were able to pick up IPL contracts even before the World Cup – four of them being in excess of INR 1 crore.
Garg, the skipper, fetched a winning bid of INR 1.9 crore from Sunrisers Hyderabad, and his ‘senior’ record tells you why: a first-class average of 66.69, a List-A average of 47.13, and a T20 strike rate of 132.74.
In terms of pre-tournament visibility though, the captain is pipped by Yashasvi Jaiswal – already a bit of a household name. The left-handed opening batsman has made waves in just a few months of domestic action, stamping his name on his maiden List-A season with 779 runs from just 13 innings at an average of 70.81 – 203 of which came in one potentially life-changing knock. With Rajasthan Royals shelling out INR 2.4 crore for the destructive opener, Jaiswal is also the only ‘million dollar baby’ in this squad.
India’s probable first-choice XI in South Africa is likely to feature an all-left-handed top-three, with Divyaansh Saxena expected to partner Jaiswal and Tilak Verma having earned his number three spot with a string of consistent scores in the lead-up to the World Cup.
Joining Garg in the middle-order is wicketkeeper Dhruv Jurel who was among the runs in the pre-tournament fixtures.
Jaiswal and Verma will also provide twin bowling options to Garg in a team which is likely to turn heads for its depth in both departments.
Siddhesh Veer could stake claim for the finisher’s position with the bat at number six, while Atharva Ankolekar has worthy credentials as a slow left-arm bowling all-rounder.
Ankolekar’s spin-bowling partner in the XI is the squad’s second two-crore buy in the IPL – Kings XI Punjab invested heavily in the 19-year-old leggie despite the brief sample size of six List-A games and six T20 outings at the senior level.
Two of India’s pacers completed the IPL buys among the colts – right-armer Kartik Tyagi (INR 1.3 crore) and left-armer Akash Singh (INR 20 lakh) will join Jaiswal at the Royals, but before that, they must look to avail the purchase on offer on the tracks in South Africa.
Vidyadhar Patil, a right-arm medium bowler capable of batting at number eight or nine, appears the likeliest candidate to complete the playing XI. Kumar Kushagra – all of 15 years old – is the back-up keeper, while Shashwat Rawat is an additional batsman in the fold. Shubhang Hegde provides a like-for-like replacement for the all-round abilities of Ankolekar, and left-armer Sushant Mishra bolsters the pace battery.
The Indian contingent arrived in South Africa well in advance, with a bilateral series as well as a quadrangular scheduled to acclimatize themselves to the conditions, apart from the ‘unofficial’ warm-up games organised by the ICC.
It’s been a successful stint so far for the colts – their only defeat in nine games came in the final game of the three-match series against South Africa, by when they had already wrapped the contest with thumping wins in the opening two matches.
India were equally dominant in the quadrangular series that followed, beating South Africa by 66 runs, Zimbabwe by 89 runs and New Zealand by 120 runs, before a 69-run victory over the hosts in the final.
India’s first warm-up clash, against Afghanistan, was even more one-sided – Afghanistan were bowled out for 44 in reply to 255/8 – but they finally got a bit of a contest on Tuesday, with Zimbabwe coming within 23 runs of overhauling a 296-run target.
Since arriving in South Africa just before Christmas, the India under-19s have played seven official Youth ODIs, in addition to the two warm-up games this past week. The form of their batsmen and spinners will please them no end.
Of the expected top-five – Jaiswal, Saxena, Verma, Garg and Jurel – every batsman has averaged above 35, and registered at least two 50+ scores.
Ankolekar tops the wicket-taking charts with 12 strikes in five games; Bishnoi isn’t too far, with 10 in five – the same returns as left-arm quick Sushant Mishra.
India find themselves drawn in Group A at the World Cup, alongside Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Japan – and it would count as some upset if the holders are to even finish second in that pack.
The Sri Lankan under-19s have won just seven out of 20 Youth ODIs since the start of 2019. They did get past South Africa in the first of their warm-ups but were bowled out for scores of 197 and 215 in their two outings.
Despite that, they’re miles ahead of their Kiwi counterparts; New Zealand have won only twice in 13 matches since January 2019 – the worst win-loss ratio as well as the joint-least wins for any team in Youth ODIs in the time-period.
Japan, meanwhile, are first-timers at any Cricket World Cup (at any level, in any format, irrespective of gender), and while they bring the element of ‘romance,’ it can’t be forgotten that their ticket to South Africa was booked in farcical circumstances – the deciding game of the East Asia Pacific qualifier in June was awarded to Japan since Papua New Guinea were unable to field a team following an eleventh-hour suspension of 11 members of their squad on disciplinary grounds.
If India do play to form and top their group, their opponents in the quarter-final will be the second-placed team from Group D, which features South Africa, Afghanistan, UAE and Canada.
As far as competition in the latter stages of the tournament is concerned, while India will be ready for the usual suspects – Australia, England, Pakistan – they might also want to be wary of Bangladesh: the junior Tigers are level with India for the most wins for any team in Youth ODIs since 2019, having won 16 out of 22 games.
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