His under-19 days have shaped Kohli

The transition from age-group cricket to the senior level often marks a huge jump for a player and it is here that his junior World Cup experience can come in handy.

A young Virat Kohli, the India under-19 captain with the junior World Cup.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

Australian Michael Clarke and South Africa's Graeme Smith, who took part in the 2000 edition of the junior World Cup in Sri Lanka, made their mark as skippers and leaders of men.   -  AP

The under-19 World Cup serves as a wonderful launch-pad for young cricketers. It’s a platform that gives these players a taste of what awaits them on their cricketing journey.

Since the first ICC under-19 World Cup, down under in 1988, several exceptional talents have lit up the stage at the highest levels of the game.

The inaugural World Cup saw Brian Lara and Inzamam-ul-Haq parade their skills. The two went on to become the finest batsmen of their generation with maestro Sachin Tendulkar. All three also went on to lead their countries in international cricket.

Two other cricketers from that edition, England’s Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain, not just graduated to the bigger league but also captained their countries.

Atherton became a highly respected and technically correct opener and a capable, if defensive, leader. Hussain was a wristy middle-order batsman and a tactically suave captain who had several tricks up his sleeve. Hussain, who has his roots in Chennai, will be remembered for his inventiveness as skipper.

The under-19 World Cup helps in building a youngster’s character, puts him in a team environment, and exposes him to the immensely competitive world of junior international cricket.

It’s not just about technical prowess. The competition often tests and strengthens their minds. And those found wanting in a certain department still have time to iron out the chinks. What the tournament does is to show a mirror to these emerging cricketers.

The transition from age-group cricket to the senior level often marks a huge jump for a player and it is here that his junior World Cup experience can come in handy.

In the recent under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh too, cricketers with immense possibilities cut their teeth. The successful ones will await transition to the senior ranks with belief.

No wonder these events, held every two years, have seen the emergence of several captains. Those skippers at the junior level, with the attributes of a leader, take those precious attributes with them to the next level.

When Virat Kohli’s brave band of young Indians dished out rollicking cricket to emerge triumphant in the Malaysia edition of the tournament in 2008, they caught everyone’s attention.

Kohli not only played fearless cricket but also galvanised his boys. With his aggression and bat-speed, he smashed bowlers to different parts of the ground. And the manner in which he implored his boys to fight back during times of duress indicated brighter things for Kohli. India had found a future captain.

When Kohli took over as captain of the Indian Test team from Mahendra Singh Dhoni early last year, it marked a natural progression from the junior cricket to the senior level for this feisty Delhi batsman.

As India’s Test captain, Kohli is tough-talking, does not get intimidated by men or situations and instils confidence in his men. His aggression is his driving force.

It goes without saying that his under-19 days for India shaped Kohli for the days ahead. He was bound for glory.

The present India under-19 team is fortunate that it has the legendary Rahul Dravid as coach. For inputs on technique and mind, there can be no better person than Dravid. In this icon, the under-19 boys have a fantastic mentor who will teach them about ethics, on and off-field behaviour and sportsman spirit.

These tournaments do build fully rounded cricketers. The number of players from the under-19 World Cups who have gone on to become celebrated captains of their countries in senior cricket is startling.

Michael Clarke, Graeme Smith and Brendon McCullum took part in the 2000 edition in Sri Lanka. All three made their mark as skippers and leaders of men.

Clarke helped Australia rebuild after a rather traumatic phase with his attacking, pro-active captaincy. Smith took South Africa to the pinnacle — No. 1 ranking in Tests — with big runs and man-management skills. The tactically brilliant and innovative McCullum has got the Kiwis to enjoy their cricket irrespective of the state of the contest or the nature of the opposition and taken the side to the next level.

Alastair Cook represented England in the 2004 under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh and is now his country’s long-standing Test captain and Ashes-winning skipper.

Under the shadow of his opening partner Andrew Strauss for long, Cook, as pointed out by former England great David Gower, has now evolved as a captain with his own style and methods.

When Angelo Mathews captained Sri Lanka in the under-19 World Cup of 2006 at home, he was already marked as someone special. Mathews had a presence around him that evoked respect, led by example and did not shy away from taking decisions.

Now, with the formidable Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene having drifted into sunset, Mathews is steering a rather inexperienced Sri Lankan team through choppy waters. There is solidity and reliability about him both as a cricketer and an individual that reassures the doubters.

Steven Smith took part in the 2008 under-19 World Cup and is now the Australian captain. He’s scoring truckloads of runs and making the right moves as skipper.

The under-19 World Cups not only produce cricketers of merit. They also make captains.

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