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Pedigree of Indian Colts

World Cup victory was perhaps the most fitting tribute the U19 boys could have given to cricket-lover Lata di, which they did through displaying remarkable grit — characteristic to Indian cricket — despite key players intermittently going down with Covid

Pedigree of Indian Colts

The passionate connection between Lata Mangeshkar and Indian cricket is well-known. When the Indian cricket team, led by Kapil Dev, won the historic Prudential World Cup in 1983 at Lords, the Board of Control for Cricket in India wanted to reward the players. Their coffers were dry and Raj Singh Dungarupur — the then BCCI President — reached out to Lata Mangeshkar.

A charity concert was organised in New Delhi where the 'queen' sang. Proceeds from it were rich enough to reward the players Rs 1 lakh each. Call it fate, call it timing, call it sheer nostalgia, hours after the Indian under-19 team won the junior World Cup in Antigua last Sunday, Lata passed away in Mumbai.

Such was the connect Lata had across generations of music lovers and cricketers, it was as if she had chosen to depart after the Indian team won, again. The under-19 players, led by Yash Dhull from Delhi, will realise the impact of their achievement in coming days. But one thing is for sure, even as these boys grow up to become men, they will be told by their mentors what Lataji was to Indian cricket.

When we talk of stardom, we also talk of a connection between luminaries from different walks of life. Some things are ordained. With national mourning having been declared for two days after Lata's demise, the senior Indian cricket team was competing against West Indies in Ahmedabad. As a mark of respect, they wore black bands on their arms last Sunday in the first ODI.

Cut to the junior team, there is again a connect with Lata the nightingale. If the singer battled the dreaded Covid-19 virus and spent over three weeks in a Mumbai hospital, the Indian junior team members, too, were victims of it. The way players were falling like ninepins despite the Bio Bubble in Antigua, it was a miracle they were able to recover so fast and play tough matches. To have emerged victorious in the tournament after maintaining an unbeaten sequence was a testimony to their willpower, passion and hunger.

After defeating South Africa early on in the tournament, the Indian team was struggling to get 11 players to go out on the field against Ireland. Such was the commotion that one would have thought that Indian players were going to possibly even concede the match. No, that did not happen, as the resolve of the players came to the fore. Ten players were fit and a not-fully-fit one had to be included as the 11th player against Ireland.

India not only won that match but also had started turning out to be the true Covid warriors on the playfield.

Quite often, we hear of negative stories in Indian cricket. We hear of captains being asked to quit, coaches being eased out and much more politics. Yet, as far as the junior team was concerned, playing in distant Antigua showed that these youngsters had the talent, tenacity and temerity to deal with opponents on the field as well as with the nasty virus.

At a time when people are still talking about the movie '83, what transpired in Antigua was even more dramatic. It was as if Robin Cook, the famous author, was penning a new book. Just imagine, captain Yash Dhull had to sit out for a few days, as he was Covid positive. Less-known Nishant Sandhu was then made captain. More bizarre things happened. The designated vice-captain, Shaik Rasheed from Hyderabad, was also ruled out.

A stage reached where it appeared as if India could have done with hockey's rolling substitution rule to field players. Perhaps, this was the best tribute India's young cricketers could pay to all those lives lost due to the Covid virus. The moment they were turning Covid negative, they were back on the field, as if this was war on the border front.

It was heartening to hear Yash Dhull's father on radio after India defeated Australia in the semi-finals. He was emphatic when he said cricket is a team sport and he was happy not just for his son's performance but how the team was shaping up despite the adversities it faced.

The backroom story in the Indian team is also fascinating. The pandemic had not allowed the players to take part in many tournaments over the last two years. Perhaps, picking leads from the way the Indian senior side played under the captaincy of Virat Kohli, the juniors wanted to play with the same aggression and passion.

Full credit for this will go to the support staff and the mentors with the boys in blue. Coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Sairaj Bahutule plus the National Cricket Academy head VVS Laxman showed that they had to keep egging on the juniors. This was very much like the head warden in a hostel taking charge of the players with care and concern. Or, to sum it more succinctly, these former India senior players had become like parents for the young tigers on the prowl.

To be sure, this was not the first time India was aiming to win the under-19 World Cup. If Mohammad Kaif was the first captain to guide India to the trophy in 2000, followed by Virat Kohli as junior captain, Unmukt Chand and Prithvi Shaw showed they were also capable leaders. For India to win this trophy for the fifth time certainly augurs well for the future.

The pessimists and cynics would like to cite the example of Unmukt, who recently migrated to play cricket and settle down in the United States of America. As Indian

players are not allowed to compete in overseas leagues, Unmukt has also now been able to play in the Big Bash league in Australia.

However, the current crop of India's under-19 players has much to look forward to. Names of Dhull, Rasheed, Harnoor Singh Pannu, Raj Bawa, Angkrish Raghuvanshi, Rajyavardhan Hangaargekar, Kaushal Tambe, Vicky Ostwal, Nishant Sandhu, Aaradhya Yadav, Ravi Kumar, Dinesh Bana, Siddharth Yadav and Garv Sangwan will be heard.

Given the amount of cricket being played by the Indians, these boys will have their task cut out. They will soon be sporting Oakleys or Ray Ban shades, they may even grow a beard or start imitating their seniors' mannerisms. Till now, what they have picked up from the senior players in terms of pure cricket was evident in Antigua. But then, after winning Rs 40 lakhs prize money each, their lives will change in a big way. Some of the players come from very humble backgrounds. Some of them have never heard of this money. Or, maybe, they need to be narrated the story of how the Team of 1983 was happy with Rs 1 lakhs each at that time.

Money cannot buy you class, money cannot buy you success. These are the mantras which the young Team India need to learn. Agreed, there have been success stories of previous players from junior sides doing well, alongside of those not having done well.

Even as you read this, the Indian Premier League auction is on in Bengaluru over the weekend. The youngsters have to be polished. To win the ODI junior World Cup is one thing and to be thrown into the deep end of the pool called the IPL another. If there is something the juniors have to aspire for, it's getting better in first class cricket, notably Ranji Trophy. The IPL is a crazy circus which is fine for cricket plus commerce. The ultimate form of cricket which Indian junior players need to aspire for is Test.

Test cricket is the richest and purest thing, as was evident even from the most one-sided Ashes series recently. The winning team as well as the losing team saw coaches being axed or putting in papers. Just imagine, someone like Justin Langer had to quit in Australia as the players felt his micromanagement was getting far too obsessive.

In case you were not aware, the Indian junior players had a chat with Virat Kohli before the final. "Virat Bhaiyya" gave them tips. If they pick up more from the former India captain, you can be sure, the Indian junior stars will have a good future. By now, even these Young Turks — Yash Dhull and Shaik Rasheed — will be aware they are being watched from above as well, by Legend Lata, a huge fan of Indian cricket.

Views expressed are personal

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