Indian cricket is on a high, how dramatically the fortunes have swung within a couple of weeks! The turnaround began with the winning of the third Test against South Africa at the Wanderers and they carried their form and exuberance into the six-match One-Day series to take the first two games.
That's the kind of inspiration the Under-19 lads were looking for to win the World Cup, for a record fourth time, in the Antipodes, overpowering the opposition to emerge unbeaten.
A cricket freak from India, now a New Zealander, predicted that his native country would lose all three Tests to Proteas and the Under-19 final to Australia, if they don't bat first at Tauranga on Saturday. When the Aussies were 184 for four in the 40th over, his prophesy looked coming good as his Trans-Tasman neighbours were well placed to set a target in the vicinity of 300.
He could not believe what transpired in less than an hour thereafter. In the next eight overs Australia's last six wickets fell for 33 runs, making the target comfortable for India.
There were few doubts about India winning the junior World Cup, more so after the way they beat the Australians in the pool game by 100 runs after posting 328 to chase and in the final they chased down 217, losing two wickets. So, India won both matches comprehensively.
The auction for the Indian Premier League at the business end of the World Cup raised fears of distraction for the Indian players. But Rahul Dravid did not allow the auction to affect the youngsters. He saw to it that their focus was on the Cup and not on the moolah some of them raked in after fierce bidding by the franchises.
Frankly, some of the IPL bidding did not come as a surprise because these youngsters have been under the shortlists of franchisee scouts looking to trim and overhaul their squads. It is pleasing to see two teenaged fast bowlers, clocking 140-145km speed, getting into the crorepati club, both Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi logging in Rs 3 crore and plus.
What is even more surprising is that Nagarkoti and Mavi were snapped up by Kolkata Knight Riders who also got the Player of the Under-19 World Cup, Shubman Gill for Rs 1.8 crore. KKR will be an exciting team to watch.
Interestingly, junior World Cup captain Prithvi Shaw's batsmanship prompted Delhi Daredevils to shell out Rs 1.2 crore and the franchise also got Abhsishek Sharma for Rs 55 lakh.
Two other Under-19 players, century-maker in the final (after the auction) Manojit Kalra (DD) and left-arm spinner Anukul Roy (Mumbai Indians), went for their base price of Rs 20 lakh.
Dravid was given a free hand to pick his squad in consultation with his support staff and the national selectors accepted his view of not picking any player who has played in the last World Cup two years ago in Dhaka even though they qualified for selection as teenagers and would have considerably strengthened the side.
Ishan Kishan, Washington Sundar and Arman Jaffer, who were in the 2016 team, were left out and Dravid felt it was in the best interests of the young men as playing in under-19 cricket for long will not help their cricket. Sundar has already played for India seniors and is marked down for bigger things.
Dravid's argument is valid, if the three seniormost juniors had been included, one of them, not Shaw, would have captained the side and Gill may not have batted at No 3. Dravid is aware of the pitfalls of first-class as well as international cricket. His wards will be wiser for the experience.
Like all junior World Cups, this one also will surely produce greats of future years. Brian Lara, Sanath Jayasuriya, Virendra Sehwag, Inzamamul Haq and Michael Clarke, to name a few, were all products of previous World Cups and there have been any number of Indians who have graduated likewise. Yuvraj Singh, Venkatapathy Raju Nayan Mongia, Subroto Banerjee, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, Shikhar Dhawan, Piyush Chawla, Ravidnra Jadeja, and of course Virat Kohli, are part of a fairly long list.
Unfortunately, cricket has bred so much cynicism in the country that some people have started wondering whether the boys were indeed genuinely under-19. It is not all that easy to fudge age in birth certificates, school-leaving certificates all that easily and if corrections are made at a future date they can be detected easily.
For now enjoy the success of Indian cricket.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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