Under-19 World Cup. Can the India Under-19 batch of 2024 join the prestigious class of 2000, 2008, 2012, 2018 and 2022?

Earlier this week, a young man from Karnataka grabbed the consciousness of the average Indian cricket fan, upstaging even Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. Not yet 19, Prakhar Chaturvedi ripped the record books to shreds, scoring a monumental unbeaten 404 in the final of the all-India Under-19 tournament for the Cooch Behar Trophy. That his exploits came in the title clash, and against Mumbai who received a dose of their own medicine, brought it into starker focus.

Chaturvedi might be the current Under-19 flavor, but don’t be surprised if more names grab the limelight in the next three weeks. Names like Uday Saharan. Arshin Kulkarni. Gravelly Avinash. Musheer Khan. Raj Limbani. Saumy Pandey. He could make his Ranji Trophy debut in the next few weeks.

The World Cup is the showpiece event at the Under-19 level, but as Rahul Dravid took great pains to point out during his four-year stint as the India Under-19 and ‘A’ coach between 2015 and 2019, it is no more than a means to an end. “I am not a big fan of judging these boys based on results alone,” he told this writer not long into his tenure. “A few years later, few will remember whether someone was a part of the Under-19 World Cup-winning squad. They will only truly be recognized when they make the senior side and perform; that must be the ultimate goal, not just winning the Under-19 World Cup.”

Under-19 World Cup.
Under-19 World Cup.

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It’s hard to fault Dravid’s philosophy but try telling an Under-19 kid approaching the biggest tournament of his life that it doesn’t really matter if he comes home victorious or not.

As they have for the last several editions, India will approach this latest World Cup as among the strong favorites to go all the way. Perhaps not as strong as in the past, primarily because the pandemic scuttled domestic age-group cricket for two full seasons and therefore prevented the natural progression of the Under-16 cricketers who would have organically advanced to the Under-19 team, but still strong enough that other teams will cast a wary eye on them. India has made the finals in each of the last four editions, winning in 2018 and 2022, and while the pressure of history might weigh on Saharan and his boys, it shouldn’t really impact their performances when they get out on the park.

There is so much organized cricket, much of it by the BCCI itself, that one would have to be extraordinarily unlucky to not get enough opportunities or to slip through the cracks. It speaks to the robustness and vibrancy of the system which, contrary to popular public opinion, doesn’t merely pander to the high and the mighty.

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Nurturing Champions for Under-19 World Cup Success

This season alone, in the lead-up to the Under-19 World Cup, the inter-state one-day Vinoo Mankad Trophy was followed by a Challenger Series, then a quadrangular tournament featuring two Indian teams alongside Bangladesh and England. The boys then traveled to the UAE for the Asia Cup, where they lost in the semifinals to Bangladesh, and arrived in South Africa more than three weeks before their first World Cup encounter, playing the hosts and Afghanistan in a tri-series in which they remained unbeaten.

The quality of opportunities, therefore, better prepares them to tackle the challenges a tournament like the World Cup will throw up. None of these is a guarantee for success, needless to say – one need not look beyond the senior team for validation of that assertion – but if Saharan’s boys emulate Yash Dhull’s Class of ’22 and hold the trophy aloft on February 11 in Benoni, it won’t be by accident, you know.

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