Where wings sprout for the big flight

A World Cup winner is a big tag and will always remain a proud memory.

New Zealand is a nation with a population of approximately 5 million. It’s still a country where the residents leave their houses unlocked and their cars unattended with their valuables inside in the middle of a parking lot. The place has clean water, thin air and is very scenic. One is advised to wear a high SPF sun block to protect the skin.

I made my debut in New Zealand and went on more trips there to play on their beautiful outfields; it remains a strong memory. This time I was there to commentate on the ICC Under-19 men’s cricket World Cup.

Till some years back I used to wonder if an event as big as a World Cup should be held for under-19s. Was it worth the effort and should the young players have the luxury of wearing their national colours so early in their careers? Moreover, you wear the national emblem and stand tall while the national anthem plays. You are an ambassador of the nation.

Such a thought has now given way to seeing the opportunity that these young and probable future stars are presented with. It is just a step away from the senior national team.

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It’s not the easiest of tasks to pick an under-19 team. Yes, an outstanding talent can be easily spotted and a good prospect groomed. But to identify and select the 15, the best team to represent the country, is an onerous task.

A tournament like this allows these young players to test themselves, their skills and temperament levels vis a vis the international standard. It’s a door to step through and possibly see yourself in the best light. The travel to a foreign land especially provides that orientation no classroom text can offer. It is a big exposure and the best stepping stone for what the future holds and offers. The ICC have continued in their impetus to offer opportunities to these future stars to explore themselves and learn to respect the opposition; play the game in its true spirit.

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India and Australia came into this tournament with the tag of favourites. The reason was that both teams had won three titles each since the tournament’s inception. West Indies were the defending champions. South Africa, Pakistan and England were earlier winners and New Zealand the hosts.

It’s always difficult to predict too much at this level as the strength and weaknesses of the teams and individuals are unknown. The benefit of experience tends to lean towards the more established cricketing nations.

Nowadays there is cricket available at the junior international level and this allows these teams and coaches to test their bench strength. Friendly bilateral tours and series allow players to stamp their presence at the junior level and be counted as a future prospect.

The role of coaches becomes crucial as the young need to be moulded and given the right direction to prosper. When a name of the calibre of Rahul Dravid is associated with the youth, you know the future is in the safest hands.

Rahul Dravid... giving the Indian Under-19 team the right direction.   -  AFP

  I once had a discussion with Ian Bishop on the importance of former players’ involvement with the teams at various levels and he echoed the sentiment of utilising the former players’ talent in channelising the country’s future. And that it remains an important tool from which a lot of benefit can be derived.

The Under-19 World Cup started with the two big teams — Australia and India — facing off against each other in their group game.

Prithvi Shaw (94) and Manjot Kalra (86) gave a strong start with a 180-run opening partnership. Shubman Gill carried on the good work with a 63, others chipping in with useful contributions. A healthy surprise came in the face of the two fast bowlers from India, Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti. They caught the attention with their pace and accuracy that rattled the Aussie batsmen. A 100-run Indian victory rang a loud bell for the world to take notice of.

WATCH: Roaring welcome for the victorious U-19 team

A breeze past PNG and Zimbabwe with 10-wicket wins in both matches allowed the Indian team to set up a quarterfinal clash against Bangladesh.

The Indian batsmen were tested as the team were dismissed for 265. But the bowlers gave a good account of themselves and the team won by 131 runs.

A semifinal clash against Pakistan promised to be a must-watch clash. And a crowd of nearly 5000 on a working day did create a good atmosphere. With India batting first, Shubman Gill reached 102 not out in the last over and India set a target of 273 for Pakistan.

India then wrapped up the game with an easy win by 203 runs, setting up the final clash against the same opposition they started the tournament with, Australia.

Residents of Mumbai’s Yeshwant Nagar, where captain Prithvi Shaw stays, celebrate the Indian team’s triumph.   -  PRASHANT WAYDANDE

  After their stumble against India, the Aussie team had progressed strongly. After victories over PNG and Zimbabwe, they had won a close and low scoring match in the quarter-finals against England and got the better of the fancied Afghanistan team in the semifinals.

India had not lost a single match in their runup to the final and restricted Australia to 216. India started well, but then lost two wickets. Opener Manjot Kalra then stepped up a gear and got himself to 101 not out. He partnered Harvik Desai (47 not out) to win India their fourth title.

Team always backed me under pressure, says Prithvi Shaw

A World Cup winner is a big tag and will always remain a proud memory. A few players may go on and get a chance to replicate this moment at the senior level. And for the authorities and coaches it remains a platform where they have a chance to identify their future warriors and match-winners.

The writer is a former India women’s cricket team captain.