The U-19 World Cup starting today in the Caribbean has managed to avoid a delay. It’s an anomaly in a world disrupted by the pandemic over the last two years. Yet, it’s far from being anywhere close to normal. The boys participating in the tournament literally have just about six months of cricket behind them in the preceding two years.
The tournament carries a lot of significance for the ‘future stars’. With the world coming to a standstill, the supply line too had hit a roadblock. This tournament is meant to get this line running and bring in fresh faces.
India play their first match against South Africa on Saturday. The team, unlike in the past, does not have any well-known name. It’s a departure from the preceding teams which usually had a few who had already played either first-class or List A cricket for their state sides. There were players who went into the tournament with a reputation like a Virat Kohli, a Prithvi Shaw or a Rishabh Pant.
In essence, the current batch has been thrown into the deep end. They had no competitive cricket for two years. The system that present India head coach Rahul Dravid had created would have nurtured the batch. Captain Yash Dhull and his boys had none of that, thanks to the pandemic. It didn’t help when Dravid was elevated to the senior team’s job along with his trusted lieutenant Paras Mhambrey just when U-19 cricket in India resumed in October. The U-19 Challenger Trophy had five teams and coaches from state sides were randomly picked. VVS Laxman took charge of the NCA barely a month ago.
“At NCA last month, Laxman sir and Rohit Sharma shared their experience of how they groomed themselves from this level,” was all Dhull could say of the mentorship they received.
India U-19 coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar has been part of the NCA’s coaching set-up for a while and he acknowledged the challenge of getting just 45 days with these boys. “You have to set realistic targets. It depends on how you look at it. 45 days could be enough or too little. You have to get your head around it and focus on what could be done. That’s when usually you get solutions,” Kanitkar said from Guyana on Thursday.
In such a scenario, the recent Asia Cup triumph in Dubai is the only source of confidence. Lack of practice and mentorship aside, the boys are now forced into staying in a bubble. Again, Kanitkar points out there’s no other option other than being practical about it.
“This is the norm now. Better to get used to it. The boys will learn from this before they graduate,” he reckoned. Historically, India have been dominant in U-19 cricket. There is inspiration but also the challenge for this bunch to live up to the legacy.