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Indian juniors ready to come good

Selections have been fair and coach Venkatesh Prasad?s faith in the squad gives rise to hopes of another title-triumph

india Updated: Feb 05, 2006 04:55 IST
Amol Karhadkar
Amol Karhadkar

Passion for cricket in India generally lives and dies with the senior team's performance. The public as well as administrators tend to ignore domestic cricket, especially junior cricket. But the habit received a welcome jolt in 1999-2000 when the Indian u-19 team, led by Mohammad Kaif, won the junior World Cup in Sri Lanka without losing a single match.

The Under-19 World Cup has returned to the Emerald Island, and Indian cricket followers will be hoping that skipper Ravikant Shukla, who hails from Kaif's state (Uttar Pradesh), lifts the trophy at the Ranasinghe Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on February 19.

The team has had a brilliant build-up. Before winning the Afro-Asian Cup in November, India thrashed England and Australia by identical 4-1 margins in February and September, respectively, last year.

Selection committee chairman Praveen Amre hopes that the youngsters will continue in Colombo from where they left off in Vishakhapatnam (venue of the Afro-Asian Cup) three months ago.

"The team showed its potential last season," said Amre who is remembered for his century on Test debut in South Africa 14 years ago. "India are one of the more balanced units in the fray. They have variety in every department."

Amre also said that the earlier series made the selectors' work easier and left little scope for lobbying. "I had all the performance charts ready," said Amre. "After watching all the games in the Afro-Asian Cup, it was an easy task for me as a selector."

The BCCI seems to have taken junior cricket seriously. The squad for the World Cup was announced after a four-day selection trial in January in Pune. It was followed by a week-long camp in Chennai before the team's departure for Colombo.

Besides exuding confidence in the team, coach Venkatesh Prasad was elated as the preparation camp was held in the southern metro.

"We held the camp in Chennai because we felt the weather and pitch conditions were similar to Sri Lanka," Prasad said.

He was also happy with the team's preparation. "The players have been committed," said Prasad. "They know exactly what is required by the team."

Prasad was also impressed with the individual preparation of the players. He said, "They came up with their own mission statements."

As happens at any level in India, the selection of some players raised eyebrows. Gujarat off-spinner Mohnish Parmar's action was seen as controversial and a few players were alleged to be overage.

Amre, however, put those fears at rest. "Parmar has a slightly unusual action, but he has been picking tons of wickets. Besides, no umpire has objected to his action," he said. "Regarding players being overage, the BCCI conducted medical tests of all the players at the selection camp."

The last three editions of the under-19 World Cup have been fruitful for Indian cricket. Not only did the teams perform (title in 1999-2000 and semis in 2001-02 and 2003-04), they threw up individual talent who went on to contribute to various senior teams.

Apart from Kaif, players like Reetinder Singh Sodhi, Yuvraj Singh, Y Venugopal Rao, Ajay Ratra (1999-2000), Irfan Pathan, Parthiv Patel (2001-02 in New Zealand), Dinesh Kaarthick, Suresh Raina, VRV Singh and Shikhar Dhawan (2003-04 in Bangladesh) have come into prominence in the under-19 World Cup teams.

Amre said the selectors preferred to select a winning combination rather than outstanding individuals.

"A lot of the players in the squad have it in them to make it big at the highest level," he said. "However, we laid emphasis on selecting a winning combination." We will know in a fortnight's time whether Amre's words are prophetic.

The team:

Ravikant Shukla (captain), Piyush Chawla (vice-captain), Abu Nechim Ahmed, Saurabh Bandekar, Debabrata Das, Gaurav Dhiman, Ravindra Singh Jadeja, Shahbaz Nadeem, Mohnish Parmar, Cheteshwar Pujara, Pinal Shah, Rohit Sharma, Mayank Tehlan and Vijaykumar Yomahesh.

Coach: Venkatesh Prasad.

Manager: G Natarajan.

Physiotherapist: Muthu Kumar.

First Published: Feb 05, 2006 04:55 IST