Boyz ll Men
While the senior team is trying to find its bearings all over again in the big bad world of Test Cricket, the Indian U19 team is busy raising expectations and building hopes for an extremely bright future.
The 2012 U19 World Cup is underway Down Under, and once again, Team India is proving that their junior to senior transition hasn’t exactly been ideal over the last decade.
As things stand, the team, led by young Unmukt Chand has reached yet another World Cup Final, it’s third in the last 4 World Cups (going back to 2006). They will face defending Champions and World No. 1 (yawn) Australia in the Final.
Before we go gaga about how brilliant India’s U19 teams have been over the years, and how great products like Yuvraj Singh, Kaif (at one time) and Kohli have surfaced from these winning teams, let us put things into perspective.
U19 cricket is in no way an apt indication of where the cricketing future lies, and the players who shine in these World Cups have a mountain to climb before they are even considered for senior selection.
India has, no doubt, been a very consistent U19 performer in this tournament held every TWO years. Since 1998, only once have they failed to make the semi-final (2010), and they have made three finals (2002, 2006, 2008) till 2012, and won two of them. Two World Cup victories sound wonderful on paper.
But one must also realize that Pakistan have won Two World Cups too, successfully becoming the first team to defend their crown in 2006. They beat India in that final in 2006. Pakistan have reached four finals too (1988, 2004, 2006, 2010). Pakistan’s Senior team went through their darkest phase between 2004 to 2009 themselves, in complete contrast to the exuberant brilliance of their young teams.
What’s more- Pakistan U19 teams hold a shattering 5-2 record over Indian teams in these World Cups, with India only gaining revenge a few days ago for the 2010 Quarterfinal defeat.
Unmukt (2012) and Kohli (2008): Back to the Future
And the only team, once again, that seems to defy rules of transition, remains Australia. 3 time World Champions, with a Fourth looming large- the Australian U19 team has been the team to beat over the last four years. Interestingly, most of their stars like Cameron White and Xavier Doherty in the 2002 U19 World Cup, have not exactly set the world on fire either.
It is interesting to note that Australia, Pakistan and India have shared the World Cup wins (2 a piece) since 2000, and will continue this trend in 2012. New Zealand has been another consistent team, reaching 3 finals, and upsetting the mighty West Indies in the quarter finals of 2012. They scored 18 runs off the last over in an extremely low scoring tournament to seal a semifinal place against India.
Most of India’s U19 stars have failed to make it to their Ranji teams, often faltering during that crucial stage in their careers. Some of them have become regular names on the benches of various IPL franchises. That is where Virat Kohli, the young upstart in 2008, deserves a large amount of credit. He looked at his colleagues around him, and did exactly what Yuvraj Singh did back in 2000. He lived, and he learned, and he is one of the greatest advertisements of the pros of U19 World Cup Cricket.
While the BCCI need to figure out a way to guide U19 talents in a better manner, they are currently occupied with choosing the worst possible squads for the senior teams.
Nevertheless, the one thing they have been doing right is the selection of the U19 squads. One can’t deny that, and their winning percentage of 75% (the highest among ODI U19 teams) proves it. In 2012, India has been nowhere near their dominating selves, but somehow, find themselves in a Final.
The winning mentality
After being comprehensively beaten by a strong West Indian team in the group stages, they faced favorites Pakistan in the quarterfinal. Thanks to Sandeep Sharma’s calm in the face of a Pakistani storm, the greatest choke in the history of world cup chokes was avoided. India, at one stage, was cruising, with 20 runs needed and 4 wickets in hand in 10 overs. Suddenly, they needed 12 runs, with only a wicket in hand. Further heart attacks were avoided, and Pakistan were eliminated.
New Zealand found themselves in yet another 18 off the last over situation against India, but this time they had only one wicket in hand. They managed to score only 8 off the last over, running it close, and India’s Baba Aparajith once again proved that he is a boy to watch out for in the future.
India will battle Australia to become the most successful U19 team of all time, but it won’t be easy. Captain Unmukt Chand needs to come good with the bat after a barren tournament, and India’s bowlers led by the impressive Passi and Sharma- will need to continue their miserly performances.
Though Maharashtra talent Vijay Zol scored a duck in the semifinal, he is a player to look forward to- with many hailing him as India’s next Test No. 4.