The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is often — sometimes rightly so too — dissed for lack of professionalism, misplaced priorities and lopsided policies. But the victory in the U-19 World Cup demonstrates that some things could be right with the functioning of Indian cricket. In the last 12 to 15 months, an elaborate programme was put in place for the country’s junior cricket, the dividends of which were seen at the Tony Ireland Stadium in Townsville.
Unmukt Chand & Co are not a collection of individuals who took the flight to Australia. They are a well-knit unit having been together for quite some time. They started about a year ago, with a four-nation tournament involving Australia, West Indies and Sri Lanka in Vizag. In April this year, they went to Australia for another four-nation tournament in which England and New Zealand, besides the hosts, took part. In June-July, this very bunch played in Kuala Lumpur for the U-19 Asia Cup which they shared with Pakistan.
The nucleus of the squad was formed some 12 months back and the boys were constantly accompanied by a qualified group of support staff, led ably by Bharat Arun. The former India and Tamil Nadu bowler, in fact, is the unsung hero of the Sunday’s victory, having diligently worked towards the goal. The players were made to spend months at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore and they were extended the best of facilities, including the expertise of a fielding coach and mental trainer. So when they reached Australia for the U-19 World Cup, they were prepared the best possible way. The board did its bit by de-politicising the system, leaving cricket to experts and selectors. In the archaic setup of the BCCI, evidently, someone somewhere was doing the thinking for this day.
The victory is sure to push these players to the lofted pedestal of fame and influence. It would, perhaps, also bring them lasting recognition and a few IPL contracts. But the BCCI would do well to not get carried away by this triumph. Forget international cricket, it has often been proved that the gulf between U-19 international cricket and first-class cricket is strikingly vast. A case in point is Jaydev Unadkat, who was propelled to the Test team immediately after his U-19 exploits. The result was a disappointing disaster.
The lesson here is that they should not be allowed to fly before they learn to drive.
Rarified exceptions such as Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli and a few other notable infiltrators apart, most U-19 players, as Ian Chappell says, get lost in oblivion. So the challenge before the BCCI is to build on this success and ensure that the players, who have shown enormous spark, realise their full potential. One way forward for the board is to give direction to the state associations to pick these players mandatorily in their respective Ranji teams.
Coming back to Sunday’s victory, it is a breathtaking achievement. Chand & Co have emulated what MS Dhoni & Co achieved last year. We are the world champions as well as world junior champions. For quite some time, India have been cricket’s financial super power. Now, we are a super power on the field too.
Fittingly, the victory has come in Australia – itself a super power not long ago. The shift in cricketing geology is complete.