CRICKET: YOUNG BLOOD IN THE ARENA

January 12, 2020

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Former Pakistan national and U-19 skipper Sarfraz Ahmed shares tips with Pakistan U-19 players -Photo courtesy: PCB
Former Pakistan national and U-19 skipper Sarfraz Ahmed shares tips with Pakistan U-19 players -Photo courtesy: PCB

This is another year of global limited-over cricketing extravaganzas with a number of scheduled ICC tournaments. While the men and women of national teams battle for the World Twenty20 on the playing fields of Australia, many young men will also be fighting it out for supremacy over the coming three weeks when South Africa host the 50-over Under-19 World Cup.

The Rainbow Nation — as South Africa is also known — will be staging the mega event of this age group for a second time after a period of 22 years. The forthcoming event, which runs from January 17 to February 9, is the 13th edition and the twelfth under the umbrella of the International Cricket Council (ICC) that ensures the jamboree is held after every two years.

Since the inception of this event — back in 1988, when Australia organised the Bicentennial Youth World Cup as part of their bicentenary celebrations with the then seven Test-playing teams as well as an ICC Associates side competing — a number of youngsters have graduated to the big-time stage. But there are a notable few exceptions because several legends never competed at this level. This may seem trivial, but the mention of Pakistan’s Waqar Younis and India’s Sachin Tendulkar simply just can’t be overlooked. Both made debuts for their respective nations in the same Pakistan versus India Test at Karachi in November 1989, and went on to become superstars of international cricket without ever playing in an Under-19 World Cup, widely considered the breeding ground for young guns to showcase their rich talents.

While Waqar came on the biggest stage as an 18-year-old fast bowler who terrorised many a batsman around the globe, Tendulkar was extraordinarily talented as a diminutive batsman at the tender age of 16, and blossomed into the most proficient run-machine of all time in the Test and One Day International formats.

And because there was a 10-year lull between the inaugural competition and the next one, there were other world-class players, too, who missed out on the opportunity to figure in an Under-19 World Cup. Prominent names among that generation were Jacques Kallis, Ricky Ponting, Younis Khan, Muttiah Muralitharan, Rahul Dravid, Shane Warne, Mohammad Yousuf, Jonty Rhodes, Glenn McGrath, Anil Kumble, Moin Khan, Shoaib Akhtar, Kumar Sangakkara, Shaun Pollock, Mahela Jayawardene, Stephen Fleming, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, James Anderson and Chaminda Vaas.

The ICC Under-19 World Cup begins in South Africa from Jan 17. Eos takes a look at the event’s history and its impact on the bigger stage of the sport

The roster of this competition has surprisingly yet to feature England and Pakistan as the host nations, while the West Indies are poised to join the likes of Australia (1988 and 2012), South Africa (1998 and 2020), Sri Lanka (2000 and 2006), New Zealand (2002, 2010 and 2018) and Bangladesh (2004 and 2016) as the hosts of the 2022 edition. Malaysia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) have also staged the tournament in 2008 and 2014, respectively.

Unlike, the senior World Cup, the youth tournaments have had a greater number and diversity of participants, since there is also a representation of countries which are traditionally lacking in proper cricket set-ups, but which make the cut through the regional qualifying processes put in place by the global sport’s body. For example, minnows Denmark (1998), Uganda (2004 and 2006), Fiji (2016) and Malaysia (2008) have all managed to qualify for the tournament in the past. This time, the debutantes are Japan, for whom it would be their first appearance at any global competition, and Nigeria — both are famous for other major sports rather than cricket — and their induction brings the number of teams participating in the Under-19 World Cups to a staggering 31.

The Under-19 World Cup has also not been exempt from issues related to security concerns, such as when Australia decided to boycott the 2016 edition in Bangladesh citing the safety of their players.

Australia and India lead the list of title winners with three trophies thus far, with Pakistan being the only side to become champions in successive competitions under the leadership of Khalid Latif and Sarfraz Ahmed in 2004 and 2006, respectively. Sarfraz is the only player ever to have had the distinction of leading his country to two different global crowns — the Under-19 World Cup and the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy.

There are also peculiarities attached to the Under-19 World Cup, where some of the cricketers born in one country switched over later on to play Tests, ODIs or Twenty20 Internationals for another country. The prime examples of this bizarre occurrence are the New Zealand-born England star paceman Andrew Caddick as well as the South Africa-born trio of Grant Elliott, Craig Kieswetter and Jonathan Trott. The recently-retired South African spinner Imran Tahir chose to represent his adopted country only after playing for Pakistan at the under-19 level and before going on to play for many sides in Pakistani domestic tournaments — until he sensed he wouldn’t get the opportunity to turn out at the top level for the nation he was born in.

It is generally considered unwise to predict the eventual winners of a forthcoming Under-19 World Cup because the composition of competing teams is rated as an untrustworthy source of information. Almost every major side — more or less — head into the tournament as ‘favourites’.

But of late, India have emerged as a powerhouse at the under-19 level, as testified by their lifting the trophy in three of the last six competitions. Pakistan, on the other hand, do have the potential to go all the way, but their prospects are somewhat diminished by the ‘forced’ absence of the teenage pace sensation Nasim Shah, despite apparently meeting all the requisites. Shah was pulled from the Under-19 team on the recommendation of senior team coaches Waqar Younis and Misbahul Haq.

So who are going to be the next generation of superstars to come through this process of graduation? The previous events have already witnessed players such as Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Shoaib Malik, Bazid Khan, Mohammad Amir, Abdul Razzaq, Danish Kaneria, Imran Farhat, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Salman Butt, Imam-ul-Haq and Shadab Khan, all progressing to the senior team.

Their contemporaries in other teams at different phases are luminaries such as Brian Lara, Michael Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Sanath Jayasuriya, Graeme Smith, Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Darren Sammy, senior World Cup-winning skippers Eoin Morgan and Michael Clarke, Lasith Malinga, Chris Cairns, Hashim Amla, Steve Smith, Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Alastair Cook, Brendon McCullum, Graeme Swann, Ross Taylor, Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Kane Williamson and Trent Boult.

Some of the youngsters to watch out this time are Pakistan captain Rohail Nazir, his Indian counterpart Priyam Garg, Haider Ali (Pakistan), Qasim Akram (Pakistan) — an ambitious cricketer who aims to become the world’s best batsman — Ibrahim Zadran (Afghanistan), Akbar Ali (Bangladesh), Tawhid Hridoy (Bangladesh), Jake Fraser-McGurk (Australia), Mackenzie Harvey (Australia), Liam Scott (Austalia), Ben Charlesworth (England), Hamidullah Qadri (England) and Gerald Coetzee (South Africa).

The writer is a member of staff

Published in Dawn, EOS, January 12th, 2020