A new dawn

It was uplifting to see West Indies lift the Under-19 World Cup recently. Whether its triumph offers a window to a brighter future we cannot be sure, but it certainly offers promise.

West Indies celebrates with the ICC U-19 World Cup trophy.   -  Getty Images

It’s been a difficult decade for the West Indies. The once great cricket team has appeared to be in perpetual decline, poor on-field results combined with bitterness and player-board feuding off the pitch. Not an ICC tournament seems to go by without a new contracts dispute.

 

So it was especially uplifting to see West Indies lift the Under-19 World Cup recently. Whether its triumph offers a window to a brighter future we cannot be sure, but it certainly offers promise.

I was not in Bangladesh to watch the tournament, I only followed it in the media and in bits and pieces on television, but what I did see was classic old-fashioned West Indies: brutish fast bowling and explosive top-order batting. Alzarri Joseph was clearly the standout pace bowler of the tournament, a tall, strongly built bowler with an aggressive mindset. His new ball partner, Cheemar Holder, was also exciting.

And with the bat, we had Gidron Pope smashing the ball to all corners. He was not one of the tournament’s top scorers, although 232 runs at 38.22 are good numbers. But the belligerent manner of his stroke-play ensured that he was much talked about and enjoyed. West Indies needs entertainers and he could well be a star of the future.

The question now is whether the likes of Joseph, Holder and Pope are able to grow and develop to the point of graduation into mainstream international cricket. There are lots of Under-19 World Cup stars that fade away, so West Indies must do all it can to look after and nurture this young talent. Unfortunately, its weak first-class competition and no proper A-Team system will make the side’s progression harder. I hope, though, that we see West Indies rise to the challenge.

Back in Asia, there was also good news. Sri Lanka and India had excellent tournaments. I know our lads were disappointed to lose the semi-final to India, but they can be pleased with their efforts and there are a couple of bright talents there for the future. India, too, has some promising players. Bangladesh will be satisfied with a semi-final finish — a further evidence that the team is developing fast. Nepal’s quarterfinal appearance was encouraging from a global development perspective.

For me, the Under-19 World Cup is very important. It was introduced just after my time, but since then it has really grown as a tournament. The ICC has invested heavily in terms of resources and time, and that professional planning and ambition has translated into a well-organised tournament that provides very useful exposure for tomorrow’s international stars. And, very importantly, it is attracting great interest from cricket fans around the world.

The Under-19 World Cup provides players with a real feel of international cricket. That first taste may inspire them to grow, confirming their ambition to be a professional cricketer. So it’s an important milestone in their career. A-Team cricket, meanwhile, is equally important in my view although it’s more of a finishing school, providing youngsters with a chance to learn how to play in different conditions around the world.

On the subject of youngsters, Sri Lanka’s young guns sprang a surprise on India in the first game of their recent three-match series, but in the end, the greater experience and skill of a strong Indian team proved too much. India went into the series better placed, a core of experienced T20 players with some exciting youngsters too, while Sri Lanka fielded one of its youngest and least experienced teams in history. The selectors were effectively experimenting for the future, but unfortunately, they were not given many answers or useful insights.

Clearly, Sri Lanka faces a challenging time in the Asia Cup, and then the World T20 in India. The unpredictable nature of T20 cricket will provide some hope, as will the return of some senior match-winners from injury, including Lasith Malinga and Angelo Mathews, but we will have to really play out of our skins to win.