INDIA’S DOMINANT run at the Under-19 World Cup culminated in a record fifth title on Sunday. The latest triumph, however, will stand out for the tenacity he has shown in the face of unprecedented challenges off the pitch. The pandemic has rocked the race and threatened the campaign itself – at one point the squad was reduced to ten fit players.
However, just like their seniors at Gabba in Australia in January 2021, the juniors remained defiant until the end, beating England by four wickets in the final in Antigua. But then a look at the life stories of these cricketers shows why they were never shaken – from one player who lost his father to Covid to several others who overcame extreme odds to reach the top junior cricket.
“The way people worked behind the scenes was great and no one complained. Our manager contracted Covid and was in another city, but he was getting things done on the phone. Our physio became our doctor, our analyst video became the manager. Coaches were doubling their roles in the team,” Ravi Kumar, the left-arm pacer who brought India nine wickets in knockout matches, told The Indian Express.
After starting the tournament on a high note, beating South Africa by 45 points, India found themselves struggling to field a playing XI. Hours before their game against Ireland, several players were tested positive for Covid.
“At one point there were ten of us fit to play against Ireland. The eleventh player, injured, finally had to play. It was an extremely professional environment. The way practice was organised, the way every detail was been covered, it was remarkable from BCCI,” Kumar said.
Captain Yash Dhull was among five unavailable for the second group clash against Ireland on January 19. His deputy Shaik Rasheed, Aaradhya Yadav, Manav Parakh and Siddarth Yadav were the other expelled from matches in Ireland and Uganda, prompting BCCI to come in for reinforcements. The assistant coaches ran with the drinks.
Thirty minutes before leaving for the stadium to face Ireland, the versatile Nishant Sindhu was told he would be in charge of the team.
“I was putting bands on my bowling hand when I saw (wicket keeper Dinesh) Bana rushing into my room. He said, ‘Tu aaj captain hai (You are the captain today)’. I thought he was pulling my leg. I came down to the lobby and (National Cricket Academy manager) VVS Laxman sir and (coach) Hrishikesh Kanitkar sir said Dhull and Rasheed were Covid positive and I would be the captain,” Sindhu said, who brought India home from a tricky position with an unbeaten 50.
Sindhu brilliantly led India against Ireland and Uganda, but a day before the quarter-final against Bangladesh, he also tested positive. “I had no symptoms. It was pretty weird,” he says.
But for those who know this team, the resilience in the face of adversity was hardly a surprise.
Captain Dhull, who braved the severe effects of Covid, returned with a winning century against Australia in the semi-finals, days after saving his side against South Africa with a fiery 82. The grandfather from Dhull, Jagat Singh, an army man, was his guide and drove him to matches. Before passing away a few years ago, Jagat had “instilled discipline and dedication” in Dhull.
Dhull’s assistant Rasheed broke down while talking to his trainer J Krishna Rao. His words were, “Sir, I think my World Cup is over. I might not recover for knockouts.
To allay his fears, Rao reminded him of the sacrifice his parents had made for their son. Father Balisha lost his job, could barely support his family and had to move house, but he kept his son’s cricketing dream alive. Rashid pulled himself together and scored 94 in the semis and 50 in the final.
Vicky Ostwal, the team’s most successful bowler with 12 wickets, was one of the few to bowl in every game. But the joy of success came after much hardship for the lanky left-arm spinner.
At the age of nine, Ostwal traveled daily from Lonavala to Mumbai with his father Kanhaiya to play cricket. “I saw them sometimes late, sometimes too early,” said his childhood coach Mohan Jadhav. “One day I asked where they lived, and Vicky said he was from Lonavala. He’s a tough boy. »
Jadhav’s other wonderkid in the team, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, who was probably the fastest point guard in the tournament and grabbed eyeballs with his towering six, lost his father to Covid in June 2020. you to someone who has lost their father to this virus?” Jadhav asked. “The only thing that motivates him now is playing fast and hitting sixes.”
Finals player Raj Angad Bawa has been banned from speed bowling by father-coach Sukhwinder Bawa. The need for speed saw the youngster play net fast then ask his Punjab U-16 teammates to keep it a secret.
Sukhwinder, who wanted Raj to be an all-rounder and not a tailor, made sure his son never missed practice. At the World Cup, Raj won a four-wicket run against South Africa, followed by a 42 against Ireland. With a 162 from 108 unscored against Uganda, he overtook Shikhar Dhawan’s 155 against Scotland in 2004 as the highest tally by an Indian at the U-19 World Cup.
Raj saved his best for the final, however. He came through the middle order in England with numbers of 5 for 31, the best bowling performance ever in an U-19 World Cup final.
Delhi-born Angkrish Raghuvanshi, the youngest in the team, left Gurgaon aged 11 and moved to Mumbai to hone his skills even as his brother Krishang, now a tennis player, was diagnosed of blood cancer when he was a toddler.
“Angkrish slept with us in the hospitals. These five years have been the most terrible. He would never leave his little brother alone,” says his mother Malika, who lives in Mallorca in Spain, where her younger son is taking part in a junior tournament.
“We provided Angkrish with everything, but Krishang’s treatment process made him mentally strong,” she says. The fly-half amassed 278 runs in the tournament.
Then there’s fearless wicket-beater Bana, who finished the final with a straight six. Although the image of a wicket-keeper winning the World Cup sounds familiar to Indian fans, Bana wasn’t even the first choice.
It was during the India B vs India F Challengers Trophy game that his friend Sindhu informed him: “The U-19 coaches will be there to watch our game today.” Bana’s response was, “You count six count karna aaj mere (just count my six today).” Bana broke a 170 from 98 balls, including 10 fours and 14 sixes.
While parents from South Africa, England, Australia and a few other teams accompanied their wards to provide emotional support, Indian players relied on their teammates. As Dhull said at a press conference: “The Covid outbreak in the camp has only made them more determined to win the Cup.”