Five for the big stage

CHETESHWAR PUJARA'S consistency has contributed to his projection as a future India batsman.-AP

Anwar Ali and Sarfraz Ahmed of Pakistan, Piyush Chawla and Cheteshwar Pujara of India and Angelo Matthews of Sri Lanka convinced everybody that the Under-19 World Cup is just the beginning of greater things, writes REX CLEMENTINE.

The dress rehearsal is over. As always, some of the young guns have used it to send signals that they can be good on the big stage. The ICC Under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka, which featured 16 nations, witnessed top-quality cricket over two weeks. At the end of the tournament, Anwar Ali and Sarfraz Ahmed of Pakistan, the champion side, Piyush Chawla and Cheteshwar Pujara of India, the runner-up, and Angelo Matthews, the captain of the host side, had everybody convinced that the `end' was in effect just the beginning for greater things.

Anwar Ali, the lanky Pakistani right-arm fast bowler, was the difference between India and Pakistan in the final. In his nine-over spell, Ali, 18, was simply unplayable as India, chasing a target of 109, was bowled out for 71.

Ali's first over in the final illustrated that he is the latest in the supply line of Pakistani fast bowlers. He broke the back of India's batting with three vital wickets. Unlike his colleagues Jamshed Ahmed and Akthar Ayub, Ali does not have the complete tools of a fast bowler at his disposal. He heavily depends on his stock delivery, the in-swinger. But he bowls the delivery at a lively pace and in the final it was good enough to get rid of the best of the Indian batsmen.

Ali, who was declared Man of the Match in the final, finished as the second highest wicket-taker in the competition behind Australian captain Moises Henriques. Ali picked up 15 wickets at a Glenn McGrath-like average of 12.66. He was quite economical, conceding only 3.4 runs an over. What Ali is to fast bowling talent in Pakistan, Piyush Chawla is to Indian spin bowling. Chawla, the small-made leg spinner from Uttar Pradesh, triggered a sensational Pakistani collapse in the final, claiming four wickets for just eight runs. If India's batsmen hadn't made a mess of the run chase, he would have undoubtedly won the Man of the Match award.

Chawla, 17, came into the competition with a big reputation and was consistent throughout the tournament. He has a smooth run up and impeccable control and on spinning wickets such as the one at Premadasa, he could cause plenty of problems for the batsmen. He also bowls a well-disguised wrong one, which brought about the downfall of many batsmen in the tournament. The youngster also top scored with an unbeaten 25 in the final. Chawla, who picked up 13 wickets in the tournament at an average of 12.15, has been included in the national team for India's ongoing Test series against England. Already, he has played seven first class games for Uttar Pradesh and taken 43 wickets at 23.57. He also has four five-wicket hauls and he has dismissed Sachin Tendulkar with a googly in the Challenger Series. Chawla can also go on to become a decent all-rounder, as he has made three 50s in first class cricket.

Chawla's teammate Cheteshwar Pujara was India's most consistent batsman in the World Cup and his only failure came in the final where he was yet another Anwar Ali victim. Pujara amassed a massive 349 runs in six games with a hundred and two 50s and his average was an incredible 116.33 at a booming strike rate of 82.11. Pujara, who is technically correct, is the ideal opening batsman. With the fast-scoring Gaurav Dhiman as his opening partner, Pujara played the sheet-anchor role, both while setting a target and in a run chase. He played cautiously in the earlier part of his knocks and then accelerated towards the end. His match-winning unbeaten 129 against England in the semifinal is a case study. He also top scored in the quarterfinal missing a well-deserved hundred by only three runs. Pujara has made his first-class debut representing Gujarat and only in his second first class game he hammered 145 against Goa.

Sri Lanka's captain Angelo Matthews, like Chawla, is soon going to be in the big league. It is learnt that he was almost picked to fill the all-rounder's slot for the national team's tour to Bangladesh but injury ruled him out. Matthews, who is taking part in his second Under-19 World Cup, was Sri Lanka's best player in the tournament.

A hard-hitting middle-order batsman who opens the bowling, Matthews came up with consistent performances. A hamstring injury prevented him from bowling for most part of the competition before the quarterfinal where Sri Lanka was knocked out. Coming in at number six, the right-handed Matthews did the acceleration for his side. He made an unbeaten 37 against Scotland, 32 against Namibia, top scored with 52 against India before making 32 against Australia in the quarterfinal. His scores might not be tall enough to merit notice, but his hefty blows towards the end certainly helped Sri Lanka to come up with competitive totals. Another youngster who came into prominence through means other than tall scores is Pakistan captain and wicket-keeper batsman Sarfraz Ahmed. His leadership qualities made everyone sit up and take note of him. Drafted into Pakistan's Under-19 side only in the Afro-Asian Championship in India, Sarfraz made such an impression that the Pakistani selectors soon appointed him to lead the side believing that he had the temperament to captain the team in an international competition. And he didn't disappoint. When all was lost in the final after Pakistan only managed 109, it was Ahmed who kept his fast bowlers going, lifting the body language of the entire team to a new level in spite of having batted so poorly. After the meek surrender earlier in the day with the bat, Sarfraz went at everything. On occasions, in desperate attempts to cut down runs, he sprinted to vacant positions, even as far behind as the boundary, to field. His enthusiasm was contagious. Taking a cue from the captain, the entire team exhibited the same level of intensity, which enabled Pakistan to pull of an unlikely victory.

Sarfraz had a modest record as a batsman but was tidy with his keeping. Though he scored only 64 runs in four innings at an average of 21. 35, he did well behind the stumps, taking 13 catches and effecting two stumpings — the second best in the tournament for a wicket-keeper after West Indian William Perkins. But his desire to win outshone everything.

The image of Sarfraz grabbing the Under-19 World Cup trophy from ICC President Ehsan Mani is indication of his hunger for success.