Can Kohli, Sarfraz replicate their U-19 glory?

Virat Kohli was the leader of the colts when India won the title in 2008 with his exuberant leadership qualities, while Sarfraz's rather calm influence didn't go unnoticed in Pakistan's 2006 triumph.

Both Virat (left) and Sarfraz led their countries to U-19 triumphs in 2008 and 2006 respectively.

Anwar Ali looked fiery that afternoon. The youngster, who had just stepped out of his teens, had wreaked havoc in the Indian dressing room — picking up five wickets and guiding Pakistan to win the U-19 World Cup.

As the Indian cricketers, clearly dejected, waited for the final award ceremony, the Pakistan skipper, Sarfraz Ahmed, walked up to them, along with Ali, to console them. Throughout the tournament, the captain never looked aggressive. Rather he appeared to be well-behaved and an obedient learner of the game. While most of the Indian cricketers in that team were sure about Ali’s prospects, they were never too sure about how far Sarfraz would actually go in his international career.

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That was in 2006.

Some eleven years later, when Pakistan takes on India in the final of the Champions Trophy on Sunday, it would be led by the same gentleman, who won his country an U-19 World Cup title — Sarfraz. That’s not all. It is a similar story in the Indian camp as well. As Virat Kohli walks into the the Oval, the memories of winning the U-19 World Cup would hit his mind. After all, in 2008, he was the leader of the colts when they won the title. This would also be Kohli’s second outing as the captain in a final of an International Cricket Council (ICC) event.

 Not just cricketing rivalries, the fact that both the sides will be led by two former U-19 captains, who guided their teams to title victory, would also be a major highlight of Sunday’s fixture. His colleagues from the 2008 U-19 team, who have seen Kohli from close quarters say that they were always sure about his success at the big stage. “He was an aggressive player right from the beginning. He was extremely talented and also knew how to motivate the players,” Shreevats Goswami, a member of the 2008 Cup-winning team, tells Sportstar.

While coach Dav Whatmore had made it a point to ensure that the Indian team had a proper plan in the final, Kohli ensured that the plan was well executed. “The best thing about Virat was that he knew everything about a player. So, he was confident about winning the final, and that positive energy was circulated in the team,” Goswami says.

 If Kohli had given clear indications of making it big in the international arena, it was not exactly the scene with Sarfraz. Despite Pakistan pulling off a comprehensive victory against India in the 2006 final, the Indian players didn’t find anything too impressive about Sarfraz. “Honestly speaking, we never thought that he (Sarfraz) would go this far. We knew Anwar Ali would do well, but there was not too much of an expectation from Sarfraz. He looked quite average,” Debabrata Das, who was a part of the Indian team, which played the 2006 final, says.

However, Mansoor Rana, a former cricketer and the coach of that Pakistan U-19 team, says that Sarfraz had all the ingredients to be a future captain for the side. "In the report, which I submitted to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), it was clearly written that Sarfraz has the ability to lead the country someday. I am glad, he has done that," Rana says. "The way he handled the pressure throughout the tournament was admirable. He has exactly done that now," the coach adds.

After making it to the final, the Pakistan captain had admitted that they were always taken for granted, and it’s this underdog tag that has helped them pull off a few surprises. Though Das says that in those days it was not too easy to define a player’s future prospects, he makes it clear that Sarfraz didn’t show much of a spark in the final. “In the final, he didn’t have to do much because we, the Indians, suffered a batting collapse. So, it was tough to analyse Sarfraz,” he says.

A decade later, both the captains, however, would be hoping to emulate that success when they take the field on Sunday afternoon. It is not just about who wins, for both Kohli and Sarfraz, it would also be about bringing back the ship that sailed long ago!

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