The 13th edition of the ICC Under-19 World Cup is set to commence from January 17, 2020, in South Africa. The tournament serves as a perfect platform for several budding cricketers from all around the world to showcase their talent at a recognised level. First played in 1988, as the Youth World Cup, it was not staged again until 1998. However, from there on, the competition has been organised every consecutive year. With four titles to their name, the defending champions India are the most successful team in the history of the tournament, while Australia have emerged victorious on three occasions.
The tournament has produced way too many successful players who have gone on to play international cricket and become legends of the game, while there are also players who are currently playing at the higher level and are key members of their respective sides. Then come those players who had the fortune of leading their nations at both the Under-19 level and internationally.
In the first of the two-part series, we look at five renowned retired players who led their country in the U-19 World Cup and then went on to become successful international captains:
Mike Atherton (England) - 1988 Youth World Cup
Then captained England in 54 Tests and 43 ODIs
Atherton captained the likes of Nasser Hussain and Mark Ramprakash in the 1988 U-19 World Cup, then known as the Youth World Cup, as England made it to the semifinals of the tournament where they lost to their arch-rivals and the hosts Australia who went on to win the competition. Atherton (197) was England's second highest run-getter after Hussain (330). The gutsy opener from Lancashire made huge strides in the next three years in first-class cricket and was rightly nicknamed the FEC (Future England Captain). He was dismissed for a duck on his Test debut against Australia in 1989 but scored a sturdy 151 against New Zealand in only his third Test.
Known for his stubbornness both on and off the field, Atherton was given the captaincy after Graham Gooch stepped down midway through the 1993 Ashes. England lost the first match under his leadership but managed to win the final Test, their first against Australia after 18 encounters. His career-defining knock came in 1996 against South Africa in Johannesburg where he batted for 683 minutes for his 185 against the likes of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock and helped England pull off a draw. England won 13 and lost 21 Tests under his leadership before Atherton stepped down as captain after seeing his team getting beaten 1-3 against West Indies in 1998. He played for four more years before announcing his retirement in 2001. He also captained England in the 1996 World Cup, and currently works as a broadcaster and journalist.
Brian Lara (West Indies) - 1988 Youth World Cup
Then captained West Indies in 47 Tests and 125 ODIs
Mr. 375! Mr. 400! Mr. 501!
A high back-lift followed by that typical Caribbean flourish, Brian Charles Lara was one of the best batsmen, if not the best, in the history of Test cricket. The stylish left-hander led West Indies in the 1988 Youth World Cup and played a key role in helping his team qualify for the semifinals where they lost to Pakistan. Lara batted for over 300 minutes in only his second first-class match against the likes of Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall and that was enough to suggest that he was destined for greatness. At the age of 20 in 1990, he became the youngest player to lead Trinidad and Tobago and made his international debut in the same year.
Lara scored over 10,000 runs in both ODIs and Tests and played some remarkable innings during his career, starting with the 375 against England in Antigua. Then came that 501* for Warwickshire, and in 2004 against England he became the first batsman to score 400 in Test cricket. He had three stints at captaincy but didn't achieve much success apart from winning the Champions Trophy in 2004. Lara didn't have the resources and it was mostly him fighting a lone battle on a majority of the occasions. The batting maestro announced his retirement from international cricket after the 2007 World Cup but has been involved with the game since then.
Michael Clarke (Australia) - 2000 Under-19 World Cup
Then captained Australia in 47 Tests, 74 ODIs and 18 T20Is
An attacking middle-order batsman from New South Wales, Clarke made his international debut in an era when Australia were going along thrashing every opponent. He averaged just 14.40 in the 2000 U-19 World Cup where Australia lost to India in the semifinals. Considering the tournament was played in Sri Lanka, Australia lost three games in the competition, all against Asian sides. Clarke however had a couple of good domestic seasons and was called up to the national side. The right-hander scored 151 on his Test debut and forced everyone to sit up and take notice. He was solid both against pace and spin and that made him a complete package.
Clarke took over the captaincy from Ricky Ponting in 2011 and his biggest achievement as a skipper was winning the 2015 World Cup at home. Under his leadership, Australia also whitewashed England in the Ashes in 2013. However, with recurring back injuries, Clarke couldn't prolong his career and retired from ODIs after the World Cup. He announced his retirement from Test cricket after Australia lost the Ashes 2-3. He was also a handy spinner and a brilliant fielder. He might not have achieved everything that Ricky Ponting did but Clarke was always attacking with his approach, and a great friend first and then a captain to his teammates.
Alastair Cook (England) - 2004 Under-19 World Cup
Then captained England in 59 Tests, 69 ODIs and 1 T20I
England's highest Test run-getter, Sir Alastair Cook ended his career with 12472 runs, with 33 centuries and 57 fifties in 161 Tests. He plundered tons of runs for Bedford School in his early days and also captained England in the Under-19 World Cup in 2004. With 383 runs to his name, Cook was the second highest run-scorer in the tournament. He later scored his maiden first-class hundred. Right from his young days, Cook was someone who had a lot of patience and was willing to score those daddy hundreds.
The left-handed opener didn't achieve much success in white-ball cricket but Cook made up for it in the longest format of the game. He had his own way of scoring runs and remained England's most consistent batsman for years. He dominated the 2010-11 Ashes and then led England to a historic Test series win in India, their first for 28 years. It looked like Cook would close in on Sachin Tendulkar's record but his form started to drop as he managed 50-plus scores only twice in his last 15 Tests before he scored a century in his farewell Test against India. Following his retirement, Cook received a knighthood for his services to cricket from the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Tatenda Taibu (Zimbabwe) - 2002 Under-19 World Cup
Then captained Zimbabwe in 10 Tests and 29 ODIs
Taibu featured for Zimbabwe in the 2000 U-19 World Cup before leading them in the 2002 edition. Under his leadership, Zimbabwe didn't qualify for the Super League but managed to win the Plate League, beating Nepal in the final. He scored 250 runs at an average of 50 and was named as the Player of the Tournament. In his first four years in international cricket, Taibu experienced probably everything. He made his international debut at the age of 18 and was appointed vice-captain at 19. At the age of 21, he became the youngest captain and then he announced his retirement from international cricket the very next year after another player revolt.
He had a horrible debut in both formats, and it was in the 2003 World Cup where he showcased a glimpse of his talent batting down the order. Taibu was also an outstanding wicketkeeper, very light on his feet. He moved to South Africa in 2006 but things didn't quite work out from him and he reappeared in Zimbabwe colours in 2007. He still remains to be the only cricketer from Zimbabwe to feature in an IPL game. After a decade-long international career, he announced his retirement at the young age of 29.
* Honourable mentions - The likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Nasser Hussain, Graeme Smith, Brendon McCullum, George Bailey and Darren Sammy didn't captain in the U-19 World Cup but went on to become successful captains for their respective nations.