x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Under 19 cricketers have failed to unlock potential after World Cup

As the latest edition of the U19 World Cup starts in Australia later this week, most of the players that assemble will be aware that similar hard luck stories await them.

Virat Kohli, the captain of the winning India Under 19 team in 2008, has managed to graduate to the senior level, but he is an exception than the norm.
Virat Kohli, the captain of the winning India Under 19 team in 2008, has managed to graduate to the senior level, but he is an exception than the norm.

Unless you have been a keen follower of Australian domestic cricket, you won't remember Brett Williams or Wayne Holdsworth. Williams played just four first class matches in the late 1980s, while Holdsworth made the 1993 Ashes tour without winning the baggy green cap.

The two were stars of the Australian side that won the first Under 19 World Cup in 1988. Williams made a century in the final against Pakistan and was the highest run-scorer. Holdsworth topped the wicket taking charts.

Ten years later, when the tournament was revived, the highest wicket taker was Ramnaresh Sarwan. When he did break into the West Indies side a couple of years later, it was as a batsman that he made his name.

Pakistan's Zahid Saeed was the most successful bowler in the fray when India won the competition in 2000. In a first-class career spanning eight seasons, he took 299 wickets, but the national cap that seemed a certainty as a 19 year old never came his way.

The eye-catching performers in 2002 were Cameron White, Donovan Pagon and Xavier Doherty. All three have played internationally, without ever becoming fixtures in their sides.

Shikhar Dhawan and Enamul Haque Junior, who topped the batting and bowling charts in 2004, represented India and Bangladesh briefly, but did not do justice to the youthful promise.

As the latest edition of the tournament starts in Townsville in Australia later this week, most of the players that assemble will be aware that similar hard luck stories await them.

For every Chris Gayle - top run scorer in 1998 - and Virat Kohli the captain of the Indian side that won in 2008, there are a dozen others that cannot make the transition to the big stage.

When it comes to young talent, even seasoned professionals can be fooled. At the Fifa Under 17 World Championships in 1991, Ghana's Nii Lamptey outshone Alessandro del Piero and Juan Sebastian Veron as the Black Starlets won the title. His displays were so impressive that Pele anointed him as the next big thing.

In a career that took in stints in Belgium, the Netherlands, England, Italy, Turkey, Argentina, China, Saudi Arabia and Portugal, he only succeeded in becoming sport's biggest what might have been tale.

Indian cricket has seen plenty of false dawns too. Back in 2002, Ambati Rayudu, was a 17 year old from Hyderabad that everyone was raving about. Even Sunil Gavaskar reckoned that the boy had what it took to be at the vanguard of a new generation.

A decade on, Rayudu has yet to play for India. A chequered career has seen him leave Hyderabad for teams like Andhra Pradesh and Baroda. There was an on-field skirmish with a fellow player and a stint with the rebel Indian Cricket League. Although there have been a few special innings in the Indian Premier League for the Mumbai Indians, the final step remains elusive.

Why does it happen? When he was taking his first strides in Ranji Trophy cricket, Rahul Dravid was not considered anything special. There were several others, like Vinod Kambli, who were labelled better prospects. "Some of them had more talent than me," said Dravid. "But maybe they didn't work as hard. Maybe some of them gave up too easily."

Kambli, a schoolboy prodigy who made a one-day international century even before Sachin Tendulkar and played the last of his 17 Tests before Dravid had even made his debut.

As in the fable, the tortoise with a greater heart left the flighty hare far behind. For Unmukt Chand, the Indian captain, and others hoping to make their mark in northern Queensland this month, there is no greater lesson to learn.

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