India begin U-19 World Cup defence with tough opener | Crickit
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India begin U-19 World Cup defence with tough opener

Jan 19, 2024 10:30 PM IST

Focus once again on the future as India face Bangladesh in Bloemfontein

There is always extra interest around the India under-19 team. The squad is picked from the biggest age-group talent pool among all the cricket boards. India are the most successful side in the U-19 World Cup's history, having won in 2000, 2008, 2012, 2018 and 2022 so there's a reputation to maintain as well. Saturday's tournament opener against Bangladesh therefore will not only kick off India's title defence but also provide first glimpse of the cream of the next generation.

Bangladesh captain Mahfuzur Rahman Rabby and India skipper Uday Saharan pose with the Under-19 World Cup(ICC)
Bangladesh captain Mahfuzur Rahman Rabby and India skipper Uday Saharan pose with the Under-19 World Cup(ICC)

Onus will be on the Uday Saharan-captained side to play an exciting brand of cricket while displaying the temperament to handle the extra scrutiny that comes at this level. While the World Cup is expected to throw up a few names during the course of the tournament, some have already been singled out as the ones to watch out for.

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India's seam-bowling allrounder Arshin Kulkarni--who also opens the batting--is a breakout star, with his photograph seeking blessings from Jacques Kallis already going viral. Spin bowling all-rounder Musheer Khan, brother of Sarfaraz who had aggregated 355 runs at an average of 71 in the 2016 edition, will be keen on enhancing his family's U-19 World Cup legacy. Musheer, who bats in the middle-order and is a slow left-arm bowler, is one of the only two players (apart from Baroda's Priyanshu Moliya) with first-class experience.

Quite expectedly, the team is packed with all-rounders. Apart from Arshin and Musheer, there are Adarsh Singh (batting allrounder), Dhanush Gowda (batting allrounder), Saumy Pandey (bowling allrounder) and Mohamed Amaan (bowling all-rounder). Along with captain Saharan, the top-order batting comprises Kulkarni, Khan, Singh and Moliya. Raj Limbani and Gowda lead a strong pace attack that also has Aaradhya Shukla and left-armer Naman Tiwari. Aravelly Avanish and Innesh Mahajan are the two wicketkeepers.

REDUCED HYPE

Over the years, India's U-19 squads have thrown up some successful captains and players, who have gone on to play at the highest level, but there have been many who haven't enjoyed similar success at the next level. The current players are certainly wiser by those examples that a good run at this level is no guarantee of a future career in the sport.

They needn't go beyond the 2022 edition. Hailing from that batch is Yash Dhull who joined Mohammad Kaif, Virat Kohli, Unmukt Chand and Prithvi Shaw as U-19 World Cup winning India captains, but is now taking time to find his feet. Raj Bawa, Player of the Match in the final for his 5/31 and 35 with the bat, and speedster Rajvardhan Hangargekar are also taking time to establish themselves at the senior level.

From the 2020 batch that did well in South Africa, for a Yashasvi Jaiswal, Tilak Varma and Ravi Bishnoi, there’s also a Kartik Tyagi. Chand, captain of the 2012 campaign, was hailed as the next big thing after scoring an unbeaten 111 in the final but his career never took off.

There was a time when it was easy to get carried away by the hype around the U-19 World Cup but now it's being treated as just another platform to showcase talent because of the IPL and India A tours apart from domestic cricket. As an off-shoot of the IPL are the local T20 leagues that are being tapped by scouts who want to catch talent young. There's a huge gap between the standard of competition of these local T20 leagues and first-class cricket but the performances, nevertheless, are getting noticed more now. The six-hitting ability of a player, for example, fetches instant recognition than gritty hundreds in the Ranji Trophy.

Sameer Rizvi is a case in point. The Uttar Pradesh batter came into the limelight due to his exploits in the UP T20 league and soon enough, Chennai Super Kings picked him up for 8.4 crore at the IPL auction. Shubham Dubey got his big break after smashing 18 sixes for Vidarbha in the recent Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, with Rajasthan Royals picking him for 5.8 crore.

The multitude of options automatically reduces pressure to perform at the U-19 World Cup, meaning India's next generation can play without worrying about emulating the career paths of Kohli or Shubman Gill. It's not going to be an easy tournament even though India are in a relatively easy group---drawn to play Ireland, USA and Bangladesh---to start with. While the challenge of adapting to South African pitches, where pace and bounce is expected to keep batters on their toes from ball one, Bangladesh have historically been prickly opponents. A win against them in Bloemfontein, thus, should be an assuring start to the U-19 World Cup.

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