Of U-19 World Cup and floodgates of memories

M. Senthilnathan, the chief coach at the MRF Pace Foundation, and Pravin Amre, the former India batsman who now heads the talent scouting team of the Delhi Daredevils, were members of the first-ever Under-19 World Cup, then billed as the Youth World Cup, in Australia in 1988.

Pravin Amre and M. Senthilnathan in Rajkot on Monday.   -  Vijay Soneji

While some of the best of the domestic talents were making a case for an Indian Premier League auction bid at the Saurashtra Cricket Association stadium on Monday, besides keeping a close watch on the West Zone Twenty20 league, two of the talent scouts – in the Kathiawari city for varying scouting purposes – were also reminiscing about memorable times they spent together in the southern hemisphere almost three decades ago.

M. Senthilnathan, the chief coach at the MRF Pace Foundation, and Pravin Amre, the former India batsman who now heads the talent scouting team of the Delhi Daredevils, were members of the first-ever Under-19 World Cup, then billed as the Youth World Cup, in Australia in 1988. While Senthilnathan was the captain, Amre was among the key batsmen in a squad that included some of the would-be-stalwarts including wicket-keeper Nayan Mongia, spin twins Venkatapathy Raju and Narendra Hirwani and pace bowler Subroto Banerjee.

“The hype was not like that we have now for the Under-19 World Cup and thanks to a combination of multiple injuries in the side and strong opposition squads, we didn't qualify for the semi-finals, but it turned out to be a great learning curve for the side,” Senthilnathan told Sportstar. “Right now, looking back on it, it gives a great feeling to see so many of that group going on and playing for India.”

Later this week, Prithvi Shaw will lead India in the Under-19 World Cup that's billed as “Greatness begins here” by the official broadcaster. While Shaw and Co. will be staying at some of the best five-star properties in New Zealand, the group that travelled to Australia in 1988 wasn't as privileged.

“Don't know why but I remember we were not put up in hotels. Instead, like the kids that travel overseas for cultural exchange programmes, we were living with local families in Australia, so our local guardians would drop us off to the stadium in the mornings and pick us up in the evenings” Amre recalls.

“Being a part of their family also exposed us to the Australian way of living, the way they eat, the way they speak and all, which proved to be very handy for all of us later in our lives.”

Besides Rahul Dravid as the head coach, Shaw and his team-mates have a battery of support staff. That includes bowling coach, manager, physiotherapist, trainer and masseur. Senthilnathan and Amre burst out laughing when asked about the support staff for the Youth World Cup. “One. The one and only Vasu Paranjape (veteran coach) was our coach-cum-manager. The school of cricket

Incidentally, both Amre and Senthilnathan – who were team-mates for MRF in the TNCA League in Chennai for many years – have had a close association with the current India Under-19 captain. While Amre has been following Shaw's progress from close quarters on the maidans of Mumbai and also as the chief of Mumbai Cricket Association's Cricket Improvement Committee, Senthilnathan played a pivotal role in getting Shaw to join the august club of Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Shikhar Dhawan as batsmen who endorse MRF equipment.

If Shaw lives up to his promise and leads India Under-19 to greater heights over the next month in New Zealand, Senthilnathan and Amre will have more than one reason to be proud of.