INDIA’S DOMINANT RACE at the U-19 World Cup culminated on Sunday with a record-extending fifth title. The latest triumph, however, will be highlighted by the tenacity shown in the face of unprecedented challenges off the pitch. The pandemic rocked the run-up and threatened the campaign itself: At one point, the squad was down to ten fit players.
However, like their seniors at Australia’s Gabba in January 2021, the juniors remained defiant to the finish, prevailing over England by four wickets in the final in Antigua. But then a look at the life stories of these cricketers shows why they never fretted: from one player who lost his father to covid to several others who overcame extreme odds to reach the top of youth cricket.
“The way people worked behind the scenes was tremendous and no one complained. Our manager contracted Covid and was in another city, but he was doing things over the phone. Our physio became our doctor, our video analyst became the manager. The coaches were doubling their roles in the team,” said Ravi Kumar, the left-arm pacemaker who gave India nine wickets in the knockout games. the indian express.
After starting the tournament on a positive note, outscoring South Africa by 45 runs, India found themselves struggling to field an XI at stake. Hours before their match against Ireland, several players tested positive for Covid.
“At one point, there were ten of us fit to play Ireland. The eleventh player, who was injured, finally had to play. It was an extremely professional environment. The way the practice was organized, the way every detail was covered, was remarkable from BCCI,” Kumar said.
Captain Yash Dhull was among the five unavailable for the second group game against Ireland on 19 January. His deputy Shaik Rasheed, Aaradhya Yadav, Manav Parakh and Siddarth Yadav were the others forced out of the Ireland and Uganda matches, leading BCCI to fly. reinforcements The assistant coaches ran out of drinks.
Thirty minutes before leaving for the stadium to face Ireland, all-rounder Nishant Sindhu was told he would lead the team.
“I was putting ribbons on my bowling hand when I saw (goalie Dinesh) Bana running into my room. He said: ‘Your aaj captain hai (You are the captain today)’. I thought he was kidding me. I went down to the lobby and was told by (National Cricket Academy director) VVS Laxman sir and (coach) Hrishikesh Kanitkar sir that both Dhull and Rasheed are covid-positive and I would be the captain,” said Sindhu, who led India to home. from a difficult position with an undefeated 50.
Sindhu managed India brilliantly against Ireland and Uganda, but a day before the quarter-final against Bangladesh, he also tested positive. “I had no symptoms at all. It was pretty weird,” he says.
But for those who know this team, the resilience in the face of adversity was not a big surprise.
Coping with the severe effects of covid, Captain Dhull returned with a century of victories against Australia in the semi-final, days after rescuing his team against South Africa with a spirited 82. Dhull’s grandfather, Jagat Singh, a military man, He was his guide and led him. to matches Before he died a few years ago, Jagat had “instilled discipline and dedication” in Dhull.
Dhull’s deputy Rasheed broke down while talking to his trainer J Krishna Rao. His words were: “Sir, I think my World Cup is over. I may not recover for knockouts.”
To allay her fears, Rao reminded her of the sacrifice her parents had made for their son. Father Balisha lost jobs, could barely support the family at times and had to move to another city, but he kept his son’s dream of cricket alive. Rashid pulled himself together and scored 94 in the semi-final and 50 in the final.
Vicky Ostwal, the team’s most successful bowler with 12 wickets, was one of the few to play every match. But the joy of success came after much hardship for the lanky spinner on her left arm.
When he was nine years old, Ostwal traveled every day from Lonavala to Mumbai with his father Kanhaiya to play cricket. “I saw them come sometimes too late, sometimes too early,” said his childhood coach Mohan Jadhav. “One day I asked where they lived and Vicky replied that she came from Lonavala. He is a tough guy.”
Jadhav’s other prodigy on the team, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, who was probably the fastest paced player in the tournament and turned heads with his towering sixes, lost his father to Covid in June 2020. “What will you say to someone who has lost his father to this virus? ?” Jadhav asked. “The only thing that drives him now is fast bowling and hitting sixes.”
Raj Angad Bawa, the player in the final, was banned from fast bowling by father-coach Sukhwinder Bawa. The need for speed saw the youngster shoot fast into the nets and then ask his Punjab U-16 teammates to keep it a secret.
Wanting Raj to be an all-rounder and not a follower, Sukhwinder made sure his son never missed practice. In the World Cup, Raj got a four-wicket haul against South Africa and followed that up with 42 against Ireland. Going 162-for-108 with no outs against Uganda, he surpassed Shikhar Dhawan‘s 155 against Scotland in 2004 as the highest score by an Indian at the Under-19 World Cup.
However, Raj saved the best for last. He ran through the middle order for England with figures of 5 of 31, the best ever bowling performance in an Under-19 World Cup final.
Delhi-born Angkrish Raghuvanshi, the youngest in the team, left Gurgaon at the age of 11 and moved to Mumbai to hone his skills even as his brother Krishang, now a tennis player, was diagnosed with blood. Cancer when I was a little boy.
“Angkrish used to sleep with us in hospitals. Those five years were the scariest. He would never leave his little brother alone,” says mother Malika, who is in Mallorca, Spain, where her youngest son is competing in a junior tournament.
“We gave Angkrish everything, but the Krishang treatment process made him mentally stronger,” he says. The starter accumulated 278 runs in the tournament.
Then there is the intrepid wicketkeeper-batsman Bana, who finished the final with six straight. Although the image of a wicketkeeper winning the World Cup would seem familiar to Indian fans, Bana wasn’t even the first choice.
It was during the India B vs India F match at the Challengers Trophy that his friend Sindhu informed him: “U19 coaches will be here to watch our match today”. Bana’s response was: “You bas six count karna aaj mere (you only count my sixes today).” Bana smashed a 170 out of 98 balls, including 10 fours and 14 sixes.
While parents from South Africa, England, Australia and some other teams accompanied their wards to provide emotional support, the Indian players relied on their teammates. As Dhull said in a press conference: “The Covid outbreak in the camp only made them more determined to win the Cup.”