The Indian lads, under the leadership of Priyam Garg will take on the Bangladeshi boys in the final of the 2020 ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup on Sunday, 9 February, at the JB Marks Oval, Potchefstroom in the North West Province of South Africa. If India wins, it will be their fifth title in 13 editions of the World Cup since 1988.
The Under-19 World Cup is a platform for junior cricketers to display their talent. It also gives them the opportunity to prove that they have the mental capacity to perform at the highest levels. What’s more, it is a ticket to fame and fortune for the youngsters.
Post the 2020 Under-19 World Cup, some of India’s star performers will become household names and may even go on to earn 8-figure salaries. Others may just get to play first-class cricket and may soon be forgotten. Mohammed Kaif, Virat Kohli and Prithvi Shaw, past Under-19 World Cup winning skippers, made it to the bigger stage. Unmukt Chand, who led India to a win in 2012 and of whom much was expected, has perhaps lost his way after showing early promise.
Most followers of cricket in India, when they hear of the money that top players make and of their five-star lifestyles, call them ‘lucky guys’. Nobody talks of the struggles, the frustrations and the grind — the blood and sweat — that players have to go through before they make it to the international level. No one even thinks of the also-rans who tried hard but just couldn’t make it big. For every successful cricketer there are at least a dozen others who were once probable stars. Legendary golfer Gary Player said that the harder he works, the luckier he gets. That may be true of individual sport. In team games, just hard work doesn’t guarantee success; there are innumerable other factors that come into play.
We all know of how Yashasvi Jaiswal, the classy India Under-19 opener, came to Mumbai as a 10-year-old from his village in Uttar Pradesh, with the dream of playing big cricket. He is said to have done menial jobs, sold pani-puri and even lived in tents at the Azad Maidan before bagging a Rs 2.4 crore contract with Rajasthan Royals for IPL 2020. How many of us, however, know of the tough grind that he went through on a daily basis for eight years; the self-doubt and the insults that he endured and how he didn’t let that rumbling, empty stomach divert his attention from working on his batting technique?
How many of us have heard of India Under-19 skipper, Priyam Garg’s struggles? One among five children of Naresh Garg, driver of a school van in the Quila Parikshitgarh village near Meerut, Priyam couldn’t afford to buy a cricket kit as a youngster. His mother had passed away when the junior India star was only 11. His father had to borrow money from a friend and buy him a set of pads, bat etc. The youngster was encouraged to work hard on his skills and not worry about the family’s finances. That Priyam’s siblings are believed to be doing well in their chosen fields too speaks volumes for his father’s dedication and hard work.
Priyam Garg was picked up by Sunrisers Hyderabad for a sum of Rs 1.90 crore for IPL 2020. Lucky?
The India Under-19 squad’s left-arm spinner and lower order batsman, Atharva Ankolekar’s is another of those awe-inspiring stories. The elder among two sons of Vaidehi, a bus conductor in Mumbai, his father — a club cricketer — had passed away from dengue in 2010. To keep the father’s dream of ‘seeing’ Atharva playing for India alive, his mother encouraged him to join the MIG Club in Mumbai and enrolled him in a school that had a good cricket team, despite having to spend beyond her means. Vaidehi, it is said, even pawned her gold bangles to get her son admitted to the Chandrakant Pandit academy.
It is also said that Divyansh Saxena, the left-handed batsman who opens for India’s junior squad, had to move from New Panvel, in Navi Mumbai, to Anushakti Nagar so that he could get better practice and training facilities. His father is a scientific officer at BARC. Divyansh would travel to Matunga for his school’s practise sessions and then to the Vengsarkar Academy for professional training; just a matter of 50 km, with a heavy bag, every day.
How many of us know about Ravi Bishnoi, the star India Under-19 leg-spinner who is from Jodhpur in Rajasthan and is the son of a school headmaster? With the state association in turmoil and Ravi not selected to any of the junior squads, his father wanted him to give up cricket. Two of the local coaches, however, encouraged him to persevere and it is said that they converted a traffic dump yard into a cricket academy — with help from the young leggie himself — for his practise sessions. Soon, Ravi was called to the Rajasthan Royals nets and the rest is history. He was snapped up by Kings XI Punjab for IPL 2020 for the sum of Rs 2 crore.
Ace pacer Kartik Tyagi is the son of a farmer from Hapur, near Meerut, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. A protégé of Vipin Vats, who also mentored Praveen Kumar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kartik had to endure tough times to achieve fame. Once, when he suffered from stress fractures, his father had to borrow money for the year-long treatment and rehab, which he says is still being repaid. Kartik has been picked by Rajasthan Royals for IPL 2020 for a sum of Rs 1.30 crore. Left-arm fast bowler, Akash Singh, who has been bought by Rajasthan Royals for this year’s IPL for Rs 20 lakh, is also a farmer’s son.
The India Under-19 team’s wicketkeeper-batsman, Dhruv Jurel is from Agra’s Defence Colony and is the son of a Kargil War veteran. His father retired from the Indian Army in 2008, as a Havildar, and therefore the family’s finances were usually low. Dhruv’s father wanted him to join the army but when he came to know of his son’s love for cricket, he encouraged him to keep working on his game despite the cash crunch.
Then there is all-rounder Siddhesh Veer who comes from Bhor, an hour and a half’s drive from Pune. His father, who had a thriving legal practice in his hometown, had to give it up and stay with his son in Pune for him to practice in the academy at Nehru Stadium. Siddhesh’s mother, a school teacher, therefore had to earn for the family. Down with a shoulder injury just before the world cup squad was chosen, Siddhesh was fortunate to have got a last minute call up after another all-rounder, Divyansh Joshi, had to drop out.
Left-arm fast bowler Sushant Mishra hails from Ranchi. His father, who was a medical representative, gave up his job to travel with his son for practise and for matches.
It is said that a beautiful life doesn’t just happen. It is built daily by prayer, hard work, sacrifice and love. For cricketers, it is usually the hard work of the players and the prayer, love and sacrifice of their families. ‘Lucky’ guys, indeed!
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler and coach, he believes in calling a spade a spade.
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