The celebrations have begun; accolades are pouring in and monetary rewards are raining. The under-19 boys — well, they are partying too, after the World Cup triumph in Australia. But there is a voice pleading them to be realistic; actually remain grounded and not be swayed by the glitter of success.
“They are at a very impressionable age and I hope they don’t end up with swollen heads,” feared former Test captain Bishan Singh Bedi.
“It is a marvellous achievement and the boys deserve the tag of world champions. But I think they need to control their emotions,” he noted.
Former Test captain Kapil Dev agreed with Bedi. “They played fantastic cricket and looked so mature. They are our future, and I was very impressed by their talent. Let them have all the money, but let them not lose their focus. We should monitor their performance over the next year or two because the pressure on them to do well will be greater now.”
India won the under-19 World Cup in 2000 (Sri Lanka) and 2008 (Kuala Lumpur) too, but not all team members went on to play for the seniors.
Of course, players like Yuvraj Singh and Virat Kohli had the privilege of winning the senior World Cup too. A few youngsters lost their way and did not even figure in the State teams for first-class cricket.
The transition from junior to senior level can be exacting. The youngsters encounter tremendous pressure when they enter the big league and many end up losers. Mohammad Kaif confessed it can be the most exasperating experience because the demands are much greater at the next level.
“I can tell you from personal experience that the gap between under-19 and senior level, whether domestic or international, is huge. When I made my Test debut within a year of winning the under-19 World Cup, I found myself struggling. I looked out of place. I had not faced the kind of pace (Allan) Donald and (Shaun) Pollock generated (at Bangalore). I was just not prepared even though I had played one season of first-class cricket. I lost my place, realised I had to prepare better and spent one more season in first-class cricket. I was ready then,” remembered Kaif, who played 13 Tests and 125 ODIs.
Mritunjay Tripathi was a proud member of the team in 2000, but faded away when he was pushed into first-class cricket. Siddarth Kaul made waves at Kuala Lumpur in 2008 but has not played first-class cricket in three years. His colleague in that team, Ajitesh Argal, also failed to maintain his progress. Gaurav Jathar and Saurabh Netravalkar, from the quarterfinal losing team of 2010, are waiting for an opportunity too.
As Kaif — captain of the team that won in 2000 — observed, “It is easy to get carried away but when the reality dawns, it can be too late. I had to develop my mental strength and also some shots to play at that level. When you fail, you lose your place, and people forget you. That can be a tough period. That’s why I would want these champions to remember where they stand realistically. They will know it. Also, they should temper their celebrations and start afresh, because the gap between under-19 and the next level is huge.”
Bedi was critical of the Board’s announcement of cash awards. “Why? Best would have been to honour them, shower them with gifts and educate them on what lies ahead. Let these youngsters not be drawn towards money. They should be drawn towards bigger deeds at the next level. Sunil (Gavaskar), (G.R.) Visvanath, (Mohinder) Amarnath, and (Dilip) Vengsarkar never got this kind of money when they were under-19. Their focus was always cricket and look at their careers — fabulous.”
Bedi cautioned the youngsters. “Your passion for cricket should not be influenced by extraneous factors. I liked some of the youngsters. Ravikant Singh, Baba Aparajith and Harmeet Singh are good talent. They need to be guided because they have some flaws to be corrected. I want them to bowl with the red ball; no more white ball cricket for them. I hope they don’t get carried away by some observations of foreign experts. They should now learn to control the red ball. That will be the test for them.”
Dilip Vengsakar — in London with his academy under-19 squad — noted, “It was a good win, but they need to look ahead. We know they are talented but their potential will be tested in first-class cricket. I will wait before I judge them because I have seen many young cricketers fade away when they are put on trial at the next level.”
The ball is now in the court of the administrators to ensure the youngsters don’t lose their way in the glitter of wild celebrations. It would do well to remember suggestions from Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid on mentoring them when young, teaching them the good aspects of cricket and enable them grow as players who would bring dignity to the game with good behaviour on and off the field.