Youngsters are proving themselves

THE youngsters are finally coming through in Indian cricket. They are taking up responsibility, which is a splendid sign, and are charting wins for their side.

One of the highlights of India's good show during the league stages of the NatWest one-day competition has been the performances of the players like Yuveraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif and Ashish Nehra.

No longer is the Indian side dependent on the seniors alone for triumphs. While it is true that stars like skipper Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar continue to play a major role, they have been supported extremely well by the youngsters.

There is a good blend of youth and experience in this side, and one hopes, the seniors and the younger lot complement each other in future too. In this column I will take a look at the youngsters individually.

Yuveraj Singh: He is a match-winner, and strikes the ball with awesome power. What I like about Yuveraj is the manner in which he has fought back after rising to dizzy heights early in his international career.

Yuveraj suffered a string of failures, was dropped from the side, but has fought his way back, through the sheer weight of his performances in the domestic circuit. We have to give him credit for that.

It is not easy for a youngster when he finds himself out in the cold after shooting up. It can destroy a player mentally. However, Yuveraj, through his big hundreds in the Ranji and Duleep Trophy, not only made a comeback, but silenced those critics who questioned his attitude.

His innings against Zimbabwe in Hyderabad ODI this year, when he bailed India out of a precarious situation, along with Kaif, was a mixture of responsibility and aggression.

Yuveraj appears to have matured as a batsman and paces his innings much better these days, and we have seen evidence of this in England. He seldom misses out on the one's and two's. Yet, he still retains the dare-devil streak in him and can so easily demoralise an attack once he is in.

During my days as India's under-19 coach, I was amazed to see Yuveraj hit those huge sixes in a game against Sri Lanka under-19 in Delhi. It was evident that this lad had a lot of talent.

Yuveraj is a more than useful left-arm spinner too and he should be brought into the attack more often, at least for four to five overs. He should not be made to lose confidence in his bowling.

He is a brilliant, natural fielder and has the habit of effecting vital dismissals on the field. India does require his dash of attacking instinct and self-confidence.

Mohammed Kaif: He is a committed, hard-working player, who has taken several setbacks in his stride. Apart from his ability with the willow and his swiftness on the field, Kaif's discipline and dedication are bound to take him far.

He works the ball into the gaps with ease, and is a good player to have in pressure situations. Like Yuveraj, Kaif is a wonderful runner between the wickets, and is willing to dart to the danger end.

He possesses a cool head, and has a definite future in Test cricket also. Kaif has had some early failures in Tests, but if provided an opportunity again, might grab it with both hands.

Kaif is among those rare youngsters with old values. Quite some time has passed since I was his under-19 coach, yet he makes it a point to ring me up before going on tours to seek my good wishes.

It goes without saying that Yuveraj and Kaif have lifted the standard of Indian fielding. They should be around for a long time to come.

Virender Sehwag: Like Yuveraj, he is a match-winner, capable of changing the course of a contest in a single, explosive innings. His shot-making skills are breath-taking and he really can put fear in a bowler.

Yet, I feel opening the innings is not the right slot for him in the ODIs. It cannot be denied that he has played some blazing innings at the top of the order, however, he has also had some failures, and I am worried that his confidence might take a beating in the long run. He is too valuable for that to happen.

Sehwag is a natural middle-order batsman and is capable of providing a boost to the scoring rate during the end overs, with that ability to clear the ground with ease.

The Delhi lad is a useful off-spinner too, and it is up to the think-tank to use him and Yuveraj effectively with the ball. With the bat, Sehwag's tendency to take the attack to the opposition is bound to give him both happy and sad days. The point to remember is, when he comes good, he is bound to place India in a strong position.

Dinesh Mongia: Till the time of writing this article, he has had a quiet time in England, but Dinesh is the type of batsman who plays for the team. I like his attitude.

The left-hander appears a solid batsman, strong off the back-foot, with the cut and the pull being his favourite strokes. His sharp fielding and handy left-arm spin only enhance his value to the side.

Mongia had a wonderful time in the home ODIs against England and Zimbabwe, and it is not beyond him to bounce back soon. The manner in which he uses the lofted, chip stroke in the ODIs, suggests he is an intelligent cricketer.

Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan: These two have been a revelation in recent months. It can be argued that having two left-arm pacemen for an ODI robs the attack of variety, but if the men in question are capable bowlers, then there is no harm.

Nehra, an attacking bowler, has really come on well in West Indies and England. He makes the batsmen play more often than not and extracts mistakes. His ability to seam the ball both ways, obviously complicates things for the batsmen.

He has also shown a healthy temperament. Nehra has had injury troubles but has shown the determination to make a successful comeback. He adds depth to the Indian pace attack for sure.

Zaheer is a genuine swinger of the ball when he strikes rhythm and can be sharp too. Not unlike Nehra, he has had his share of disappointments, has found himself out of the side, but has fought his way back. Nehra and Zaheer have a long-term future with the Indian side, provided they stay away from injuries. With the young Tinu Yohannan performing adequately in the chances he has received so far, the Indian pace attack appears to be in good shape. And the fact that Tinu has emerged from a State like Kerala, which is a relative lightweight in cricket, is enough evidence that there is talent in the country.

And considering Harbhajan Singh is still young and Murali Kartik is around to take over from Anil Kumble if the need arises, I don't think there are too many worries about spin. However, it would be so much better if India unearths a young all-rounder, the missing link in its team. The time has come for the selectors to try out a few budding all-rounders, doesn't matter if they are still below 19. Who knows, one of them might end up delivering the goods.