Lost in transition

Lost in transition

India’s Virat Kohli looks on during the first one-day international cricket match between New Zealand and India at Seddon Park in Hamilton on February 5, 2020. (AFP Photo)

As India went about choking New Zealand for a rare T20I series whitewash in Mount Maunganui last Sunday, a picture that caught everyone’s attention was captains Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson chatting while relaxing just outside the boundary line.

It was an endearing image of two world-class players showcasing the enormous mutual respect they have for each other. Fans took to social media to celebrate the ‘spirit of cricket’ they had witnessed. While it was a lesson for international cricketers on maintaining fine camaraderie with their on-field rivals, the photograph had a lot to offer for the several colts fighting it out for the U-19 World Cup trophy in another continent - South Africa.

Kohli and Williamson, with personalities as different as fire and ice, are two among the very few in today’s cricket who have done justice to their special talent that was first seen at a global scene during the U-19 World Cup in Malaysia in 2008.

The Indian captain’s path was strewn with many hurdles. But no obstacle could snuff out Kohli’s desire and determination. The right-hand batsman first overcame the jolt of his father’s untimely death and battled fitness issues to emerge as a once-in-a-generation player, a truly inspiring transformation. Williamson, hailing from a humble background, climbed his way to the top with an unceasing dedication to his craft.

From these stories, it’s clear that it’s not easy to graduate from the U-19 level to the biggest stage. India, who will be gunning for their fifth U-19 World Cup crown on Sunday against Bangladesh, have produced plenty of exciting talents at this level. While some have succeeded in charting illustrious international careers, many have fizzled out.  

Kohli’s achievement gains more significance if one looks at the record of his limited over team-mate Manish Pandey. The Karnataka captain, Kohli’s team-mate in the Youth World Cup 12 years ago, isn’t completely lost to cricket but has played 63 international matches to Kohli’s 413. Once considered as gifted as Kohli, Pandey had to fight inconsistency and for a long time, the right-hander was a victim of his own fearless style of play.

From the 2008 U-19 World Cup winning team, mercurial all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja is the second most successful international after Kohli. However, for the other Kohli in the team - Taruwar – life took a downward spiral following a good start. The right-hander simply couldn’t produce the numbers required of a top batsman in the domestic circuit and faded away in no time.

Among the others, Saurabh Tiwary neither had the fitness nor the desire to survive at the top while Abhinav Mukund’s excellent domestic career didn’t pave way for a consistent international stint.  

Before world cricket could witness Kohli’s impeccable match-winning ability, it embraced the irresistible entertainer of the game: Yuvraj Singh. The southpaw was part of India’s maiden U-19 World Cup triumph in Sri Lanka a decade ago. Yuvraj’s limited-over career went from strength to strength as he turned out to be one of the key catalysts in India’s World T20 (2007) and 50-over World Cup (2011) triumphs.

Mohammed Kaif, who led the team, set new standards in Indian fielding and for a short period, was one of India’s key personnel in the middle-order along with Yuvraj. While Kaif made a swift exit, Yuvraj marched ahead. The biggest takeaway from Yuvraj’s career is the manner in which he handled fame and found way to return from setbacks.

The Punjab batsman always wore his heart on his sleeves and during his prime, Yuvraj didn’t allow his uber-cool off-field persona affect his on-field efforts. It’s a trait that Unmukt Chand lacked, India’s third U-19 World Cup-winning captain. The Delhi batsman’s career is one of the major flop stories of Indian cricket. Chand, who was tipped as India’s ‘next big star’ after his U-19 World Cup exploits in 2012 in Australia, is blamed for his failure to handle success. Many believed that it was too soon to publish a book of his own (‘Sky Is The Limit’) and feature in endorsements.

Dud in domestic

The opinions were validated when the Delhi batsman turned out to be a dud in domestic competitions. Chand, who now plays for Uttarakhand, has pointed fingers at the unfair treatment from the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA), which is often in news for wrong reasons.

Attitude goes a long way in shaping a player’s career. Chand’s team-mate Harmeet Singh lost track in quick fashion and was in news three years ago when he was arrested for driving into a railway station platform in Mumbai.

Among the others, the gifted Baba Aparajith couldn’t churn out big seasons in Ranji Trophy and was hit by injuries at crucial junctures of his career.

Though India faltered in the final of the 2016 World Cup in Bangladesh, the team was a reflection of the growing changes in Indian cricket. Ishan Kishan, Avesh Khan, Sarfaraz Khan, Rishabh Pant, Washington Sundar and Khaleel Ahmed received fame because of the unparalleled popularity of the Indian Premier League. This phase underlined the importance of temperament in youngsters.

Sarfaraz, for all his flair, was questioned for his attitude and accused of not understanding the importance of his wicket. To rub salt into the wound, the right-handed batsman didn’t fit into Indian cricket’s ‘fitness first’ mantra.

Pant, overlooked from the Indian limited over the side, too is learning his lessons the hard way. Despite repeated backing from the management, the big-hitting Delhi wicketkeeper-batsman hasn’t shown the right character needed at the international stage. The duo has shown that talent notwithstanding, the correct mindset and focus are of paramount importance to succeed at the top.

From the last edition, Prithvi Shaw and Shubhman Gill have emerged as Indian cricket’s future. En route to their entry to the Indian national side, Shaw and Gill have plundered runs in various tournaments. Their progress hasn’t been devoid of controversies. Shaw was banned for eight months for substance abuse while Gill was reprimanded for refusing to leave the field and arguing with the umpire after being adjudged out in a domestic game.

Hunger for success, commitment and the right attitude can take these youngsters a long way. Irrespective of the result in Sunday’s final, India would hope the likes of Priyam Garg, Atharva Ankolekar, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Kartik Tyagi and Ravi Bishnoi make the most of their exceptional skills. 

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