The robustness of India’s cricket is reflected in the strength of its juniors. That the Indian board has built a multi-layered tournament structure which provides competitive opportunity to various age-groups and prepares them for the more gruelling senior cricket, has to be appreciated.
I don’t think there is any other cricket playing nation in the world which has invested so much at the junior level like India has done and that is why its unexpected defeat in the Under-19 World Cup final comes as a disappointment.
Watching some of the youngsters break down after the West Indies won the championship, was a heartbreaking experience. It also showed how confident the team must have been of winning the World Cup. There is little doubt that among the Indian players we saw in action, there would be a couple, if not more, who are bound to make a mark in international cricket.
Foremost among the bunch of extremely talented players has to be Sarfaraz Khan. This slightly overweight youngster scored heavily in the tournament and, on a very difficult wicket in the final, showed that he has the temperament and the nerves that would help him graduate smoothly to the next level. The hungry, focused eyes, the uncanny ability to read the situation and respond accordingly, as well as his pugnacious character and being involved in each moment of the game even while fielding, reminds one of that legendary fighter Javed Miandad.
There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Sarfaraz is the man to watch out for in the near future. Given the age we live in and the temptations that come in the way of a potential star, Sarfaraz needs a guide and a mentor who would keep him grounded and focused. His father, the inspiration and strategist who is plotting his career, should take care to find people who make him understand the value of hard work and discipline.
Sarfaraz and all the other team members should consider themselves lucky that they had someone like Rahul Dravid to coach and manage them during the World Cup. Discipline and focus are the two attributes that made Dravid the cricketer he was. These are the two attributes which may be easy to understand but are difficult to follow. Dravid, a believer in the more traditional approach to sports and now a wise father, could well be the right mentor for these extremely talented players.
Dravid also needs to be complimented that he has chosen to associate himself with junior cricket, the far less glamorous but very important ladder that leads to final stardom, where success means riches and fame. This is the most difficult phase in a youngster’s career and one false step, no matter how talented you may be, could result in a terminal fall. That is why, Sarfaraz and his ilk need to tread carefully and this loss may be more a boon than a disaster for them, especially given the way the media and fans would have made them larger than life characters had India won the championship.