x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Future stars of India not putting on airs

Youngsters avoiding getting swept up with early success

Vijay Zol and his India teammates are keeping their feet on the ground despite enjoying success early in their cricket careers. Matt Roberts / Getty Images
Vijay Zol and his India teammates are keeping their feet on the ground despite enjoying success early in their cricket careers. Matt Roberts / Getty Images

SHARJAH // Amid the unprepossessing surroundings of Sharjah Stadium’s cramped net area, cricket’s next millionaires quietly went about sharpening their skills on Friday morning.

If the new Mahendra Dhoni or Virat Kohli were here, they were not shouting about it. Nor were they battling off hordes of fans, or growing weary signing autographs, or banking cheques, or filming advertisements.

At 9am on a crisp winter’s day at the UAE’s oldest cricket venue, the next generation of Indian cricket stars practised in glorious anonymity ahead of the Under 19 Asia Cup.

Even though some of them, such as Vijay Zol and Sanju Samson, do already have growing profiles, having played Indian Premier League cricket, they appeared focused on the job at hand here.

That is just as well. This age-group side, the last foundation stone before the players really hit the big time, is for hard workers only, according to Bharati Arun, the coach. Prima donnas need not apply.

“If you look at the Indian team right now, except for Dhoni and [Ravi] Ashwin, everyone has been part of the U19 team,” Arun said. “Yes, we have a lot of talent, but I think talent is highly overrated. What you do with the talent is more important. That is where we come into the picture.”

Arun, whose own brief international career with India included a tour to Sharjah, thinks Indian cricket has some of the best role models for the aspiring players who are currently under his charge.

“The greatest examples we have are guys like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman,” the coach said. “They are extremely humble people. In spite of all the adulation and expectation of the country, Sachin remained humble throughout.

“We quote examples like that and stress the importance of focusing on the game and the immediate process.”

Of all of India’s class of 2013/14, Zol is the one player whose future celebrity seems most set in stone.

It has been that way for a while, since he sprung to prominence by scoring 451 in a match in his district, while in October he hit 200 while playing Ranji Trophy cricket for Maharashtra.

This Asia Cup is his fourth tournament as captain of the Indian U19 side, and it represents an important competition in itself.

“The World Cup is being played at the same venues, so it is important that we get a good idea of conditions ahead of that,” Zol said.

“There are good teams playing in this Asia Cup, so it is important we win here and play good, hard cricket.

“Yes, a lot of players have made it to the Indian team through the Under 19s, like Virat Kohli, Ravi Jadeja, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif, but for now I am concentrating on performing in every game here.”

India shared the training facilities in Sharjah with their perennial rivals for this title, Pakistan.

The neighbouring teams have grown used to sharing things at this level of the game. The two are joint-holders of the U19 Asia Cup, having tied the final last time.

Sami Aslam, who scored two centuries against India in the previous edition of this competition, in Malaysia, is looking forward to renewing their acquaintance.

“Every time we play India, it is a thrilling game,” said Aslam, whose side play India in Dubai on Tuesday. “We know it is just another game, but matches against India are always pressure games.”