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How India’s U-19s became the new glamour boys

Yashasvi Jaiswal, 18, was declared the Player of the Series at the controversial finish to the ICC Under-19 World Cup in South Africa

Yashasvi Jaiswal, 18, was declared the Player of the Series at the controversial finish to the ICC Under-19 World Cup in South Africa   | Photo Credit: Courtesy ICC

Indication of the decline of university cricket and the planned growth of the age-group system

A few decades ago, Indian Universities were stepping stones to international cricket. The Rohinton Baria and Vizzy Trophies were hotly contested, and players like Bishan Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar, Mohinder Amarnath, Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar, Aunshuman Gaekwad, Sanjay Manjrekar emerged.

New nursery

The new nursery of Indian cricket has been the Under-19. Within six months of leading India to the world title in 2008, Virat Kohli played his first international for the senior team. More players have come through the Under-19 system — Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Cheteswar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja, Shikhar Dhawan, K.L. Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant — than through university cricket.

This indicates both the decline of university cricket and the planned growth of the age-group system.

Where the university stars were, at one time — the glamour boys — it is now the under-19 players who are feted and around whom fascinating origin stories are written. Yashasvi Jaiswal, Player-of-the-Tournament and top-scorer at the recent World Cup in South Africa, is, at 18, already a heroic figure. He slept in a tent for three years, and sold pani puri at the Azad Maidan in Mumbai, all the while keeping his long-term vision uncluttered.

Now he is on the fringes of the National team, was bought by Rajasthan Royals for ₹2.4 crore in the IPL. It is a heart-warming story.

The cricket board’s handling of under-19 has, in recent years, probably been more professional, more compassionate than their handling of anything else. By putting Rahul Dravid in charge, and giving him a largely free hand it showed the players both respect and concern. Dravid coordinated with the National coaches Ravi Shastri and Anil Kumble, and the pipeline from the Under-19 to the senior level became free of the usual impediments to a smooth transition like quotas and politics and poor judgements.

Dravid’s personality also meant that players were educated in much more than the forward defence or the curling leg-break. He has reverence for the game and what it means. It is doubtful if the fracas that followed the end of the World Cup final on Sunday would have taken place had he been present at the venue.

Bangladesh’s victory was well-deserved, and it is good for the game that a team lower down the pecking order in world cricket should stun favourites India who have won the title four times. It is a win that can do a lot for Bangladesh cricket, with many of their heroes graduating to senior levels.

Bad taste in the mouth

Yet, in the end, the tense day’s cricket left a bad taste in the mouth because of player behaviour. Although the Bangladesh captain said something that has been interpreted to mean he was apologising, I am not so sure. He did use the word “sorry”, but it could have been that he was sorry that such a thing happened. International captains at the Under-19 level, may not fully appreciate the nuances of the language; in any case it was convenient to believe he was apologising and that only one side was to blame.

Clearly the International Cricket Council thought otherwise and the video footage did suggest that both teams were involved. By calling out three Bangladeshi and two Indian players, the ICC made that clear.

You can see this as immature players (in both age and experience) reacting to victory or defeat, and therefore let it go as “one of those things.” But these players are one step away from playing for the senior team, and such behaviour has to be punished now. To see a bunch of teenagers behave in this manner on a sports field is nauseating.

The tension had been building up for a while. A big chunk of the responsibility, therefore, should rest on the umpires who could have nipped the trouble in the bud had they been more proactive and pulled up the players during the course of the match. It is part of their job description to keep things on an even keel on the field of play; such unruly behaviour is seldom spontaneous and gathers steam over the day. That should be clearer to the men in charge than anyone sitting in the stands or watching on television.

That India had both the tournament’s highest scorer and its highest wicket-taker (Ravi Bishnoi) is a reflection of the depth in Indian cricket. Losing a final is no crime. What India sometimes gets wrong is the injury-management and workload of the under-19 players.

A warning

One of the heroes of India’s 2018 World Cup win, the fast bowler Kamlesh Nagarkotti’s words (in an interview last year) are poignant. "At 19, I must be running in and bowling fast. But here I am, not playing, not studying, out injured, away from home, all by myself, and trying to get fit even as my friends are playing in the IPL and for India-A. It is tough.”

That is a warning too.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 2:29:55 PM |

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