Christchurch: It’s considered the stepping stone for the stars of the future and 16 teams, including three-time champions India, would be aiming to discover their Virat Kohlis and Steve Smiths when the ICC under-19 World Cup starts here Saturday.
From Kohli to Smith, most modern-day greats have learnt the ropes in the biennial event, which has gained significance with every passing edition. The boys not only become men here, they also become household names with millions following the live broadcast of the competition.
The event begins with Pakistan taking on Afghanistan, and hosts New Zealand facing reigning champions West Indies. India, eager to prove themselves, after their disastrous showing in the Asia Cup, open their campaign Sunday against Australia at Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui.
The tournament’s stature has risen to such an extent that a great like Rahul Dravid, the current India U-19 coach, would love to have been part of it back in the day. “We never had this tournament in my day. After 1988 they didn’t hold the tournament for 10 years, so I’ve no exposure of playing and being part of this tournament. I tell a lot of these boys that I think it’s a terrific opportunity for them to be a part of this tournament,” Dravid said in the lead up to the event here Friday.
Countless numbers of U-19 players have gone on to represent their countries at the highest level. Each edition unearths oodles of talent and makes them overnight stars, be it Rishabh Pant or Alzaari Joseph from the previous edition in 2016 when India lost the final to the West Indies.
This edition too has created high expectations with a selected bunch already proving themselves at the first class level.
The likes of India captain Prithvi Shaw, teammate Shubman Gill, Australia captain Jason Sangha, Pakistan pacer Shaheen Afridi (nephew of Shahid Afridi), Afghanistan batting sensation Baheer Shah, they all go into the event after making a mark on the domestic circuit back home.
Shaw, Gill, Sangha and Shah already have a first class hundred to their name while left-arm pacer Afridi hogged the limelight by taking eight for 39 in the Quad-e-Azam Trophy, the best figures by a Pakistani on first-class debut.
The sensational performances of Baheer Shah too have created a buzz. The 17-year-old averages a staggering 121.77 in his seven-match first class career, beating even the legendary Donald Bradman (95.14).
Indian stars to watch out for
Prithvi Shaw: The captain of the squad, Shaw is from Mumbai who bats right-handed. In 2013, he set a Harris Shield record of highest individual aggregate by scoring 546. He is already a regular in the Mumbai first class side scoring two hundreds this season.
Shubman Gill: The Punjab right-handed batsman is the vice-captain of the side and is a handy off-spinner also. He made his first class debut for Punjab this season and already has a Ranji Trophy century against his name. He has played against the England U-19 side earlier in the season.
Ishan Porel: The Bengal fast bowler is expected to be the spearhead of the Indian pace attack. He has already hit the 150-kmph mark a couple of times this season and coach Rahul Dravid is banking on the speedster to deliver the goods. In the warm-up game against South Africa he got four wickets.
Himanshu Rana: Haryana’s batting all-rounder got a century in the Asia Cup earlier in the year. Rana is expected to be one of the main stays of India’s batting and is considered a future India prospect. He has two first class hundreds to his name.
Harvik Desai: The Saurashtra keeper-batsman has been touted by many to step into MS Dhoni’s shows. This tournament will certainly be an indicator of what the future holds for him. He is not flashy but very effective behind the stumps.