Close your eyes and picture the history of the U-19 World Cup.
What’s the first image you can visualise?
If it is a young Virat Kohli knee-sliding celebration, then you are not alone. If your mind casts you back to Malaysia on rainy nights in a heavy dose of endorphins, you are most definitely not alone.
If, then, naturally, your mind wanders around to remember Unmukt Chand’s stellar century against Australia, you are on the right track. And then, Rahul Dravid, as the head coach who led India to their fourth U-19 World Cup title, you are hitting the right notes of nostalgia.
India’s legacy in the U-19 department is rather rich, with five titles, including one in 2022, when an aggressive Indian outfit spearheaded by a level-head, Yash Dhull, won the title against England.
While it is easy to say that the U-19 is just the first step, it is quite an important step in a player’s career. If they were unsuccessful in the age-group competition, you wouldn’t have paid attention to the likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Kohli, Yuvraj Singh or Prithvi Shaw.
So, if you are Uday Saharan, your hopes would now be firmly fixed on the U-19 World Cup title as India kick-off their title defence.
India’s history at the U-19 World Cup
If you were unaware, India have won the competition FIVE TIMES. Australia are second-placed with three titles, with Pakistan a close third with two titles of their own. Across the last four editions of the competition, the young Men in Blue have either won or ended up runners-up.
India have blown apart their competition regarding the overall record, with a win percentage of 78.40, with Australia second with a win % of 74.39. Sarfaraz Khan is India’s all-time leading run-scorer in the U-19 World Cup, with 566 runs across two editions - in 2014 and 16.
Form Guide, please?
2023 U-19 Asia Cup: Lost in the semi-final vs Bangladesh (by four wickets)
2024 Tri-series (Afghanistan, South Africa, India): Finished first in the league stage, with four wins out of four games, final washed-out
Who are in the leadership roles?
Captain - Uday Saharan
Vice-captain - Saumy Kumar Pandey
Head-coach - Hrishikesh Kanitkar
Okay, tell me more about these players, who are they?
Uday Saharan is a name you might have heard. Saharan, a batter from Punjab, was earlier part of the 2022 U-19 World Cup standby list after a bout of COVID-19 cases in the camp.
While the right-hander never made it to the squad back then, he is the first name on the list this time around. Hailing from Ganganagar, the Food Basket of Rajasthan, his cricketing journey is fascinating. However, his entire cricketing abode started out of Punjab at the age of 14, where he has risen through the age group with some consistency.
At the 2023 U-19 One Day Challenger Trophy, representing India 'D', Saharan established his dominance when he scored 297 runs with four fifties, averaging 99, while scoring his runs at 82.04. There was a clear gap between him and the others in that tournament.
He shares a thing in common with Shubman Gill.
His dad was a former cricketer and, more importantly, played a huge role in his development as his cricketing coach. Not just that, Saharan once upon a time started cricket in Fazilka, the same region from where Gill’s humble abode began.
Saharan even led India ‘A’ U-19 side to a title in the Quadrangular series earlier last year, all while dominating the run-charts in the middle-order.
Interesting, who are the others?
Saumy Kumar Pandey, Left-arm spinner
A left-arm spinner with an eerily similar action to Ravindra Jadeja, Saumy Kumar Pandey is another name that will be in the headlines over the next few months.
Pandey finished as the highest wicket-taker in the Quadrangular series last month. The 19-year-old has been ultra-consistent, delivering tournament after tournament. In the tri-series in South Africa, the left-arm spinner picked up six wickets, which included a hattrick.
His 13 wickets @ 23.15 in the Quadrangular series came on the back of a super-impressive Vinoo Mankad Trophy, where he took 12 wickets at an average of 18.50 and economy of 3.89. He also had an excellent Cooch Behar Trophy last year, taking 25 wickets @ 23.72 a piece.
Musheer Khan, All-rounder (Spin)
The brother of Sarfaraz Khan, Musheer Khan is arguably the most recognizable name in this Indian U19 squad, having already made his senior first-class debut for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy.
He is someone who can bat both up top and in the middle-order. Musheer has been on fire with the bat lately. He smashed 322 runs in the Quadrangular series at an astonishing SR of 176.92. Walking in at 181/2 in the 35th over in the final, Musheer smashed a scarcely believable 47-ball 127* that involved THIRTEEN SIXES!
If that’s not enough, Musheer finished last month’s Quadrangular series as the joint second-highest wicket-taker with 12 wickets. Prior to this series, in the Vinoo Mankad Trophy, he ended up as the outright highest wicket-taker with 22 wickets in 9 games at 16.68 a piece.
How about the ones who got picked at the IPL Auction?
Well, two big names were selected at the 2024 IPL Auction - Arshin Kulkarni (LSG) and Aravelly Avanish (CSK).
Arshin played for the Eagle Nashik Titans in the Maharashtra Premier League (MPL) earlier this year and was one of two centurions in the T20 tournament. Despite playing only three games, he hit six more sixes (19) in the MPL than any other batter in a tournament that saw Ruturaj Gaikwad and Rahul Tripathi participate.
Later, he debuted for Maharashtra in the 2023/24 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (SMAT), averaging 24.2 with an SR of 163.51 with the bat, and as a bonus, he picked up four wickets. The all-rounder’s prowess was on display when he bagged two wickets and later smashed 91 against South Africa ‘A’ in the recently concluded tri-series.
And then, Avanish, the left-handed wicketkeeper batter, was picked by CSK at the auction. The 18-year-old, who hails from Hyderabad, already has built a reputation of being a destroyer in the middle-order: in the Vinoo Mankad Trophy this year, he smashed 274 runs in 6 innings at a strike rate of 148.10. It was the highest among batters who amassed 200+ runs in the competition.
His rise to fame? Single-handedly beating the India B U-19 side in the Quadrangular series. Batting at No.6, Avanish walked in at 93/4, chasing 376. He set the stage ablaze by scoring 163 runs off 93 deliveries at a strike rate of 175.26. Those 163 runs included TWELVE SIXES. BLESSED!
And now, the rest?
India’s pipeline seemingly has never been exhausted and has given all the other talent pipelines a hard lesson or two. It won’t be any different this year, considering how these talents have performed before the tournament.
Here is a list of all the other talents who have done well over the last year in Anirudh Suresh’s well-detailed piece.
Give me India’s full squad and their breakdown (roles)
Batters: Adarsh Singh (Opening batter), Rudra Mayur Patel (Opening batter), Sachin Dhas (Middle-order batter), Uday Saharan (c) (Middle-order batter)
Wicketkeepers: Aravelly Avanish Rao (LHB), Innesh Mahajan (LHB)
All-rounders: Arshin Kulkarni (Pace All-rounder), Priyanshu Moliya (Spin bowling all-rounder), Musheer Khan (Spin bowling all-rounder),
Bowlers: Saumy Kumar Pandey (VC) (Left-arm spinner), Murugan Abhishek (Off-spinner), Dhanush Gowda (Pace bowler), Aaradhya Shukla (Pace bowler), Raj Limbani (Pace bowler) and Naman Tiwari (Left-arm pace bowler)
What is India’s schedule, then?
India are in group A, and here are India’s fixtures in the group stage:
January 20 (Saturday) - India vs Bangladesh, Manguang Oval, Bloemfontein
January 25 (Saturday) - India vs Ireland, Manguang Oval, Bloemfontein
January 28 (Sunday) - India vs USA, Manguang Oval, Bloemfontein
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