The 2020 edition of the U-19 World Cup is just around the corner and the excitement for the tournament seems to be building slowly but steadily. The youth World Cup has always been special as it has showcased some of the world’s brightest talents to the entire world for the first time.
While some would have definitely watched a star like Virat Kohli even before the 2008 U-19 World Cup, most of the cricketing world would have noticed the future star in Kuala Lumpur only. It has not been just Virat Kohli or Steve Smith or Kagiso Rabada who have used the U-19 World Cup as a springboard as dozens of emerging cricket stars come out of the tournament every two years.
Even the 2018 U-19 Cricket World Cup saw talented players like Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Shaheen Shah Afridi amongst others participating in the tournament to make a big name for themselves.
So, with just a week to go for the U-19 World Cup in South Africa to begin, this would be the apt time to rewind some modern day cricketers who excelled in the age-group tournament.
Isn’t it a no-brainer to start this illustrious list of players with the world’s best cricketer, Virat Kohli. The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awardee has come a long way since the 2008 ICC U-19 World Cup in Malaysia. While he has already been named as an all-time cricketing legend by many experts, Virat Kohli’s first taste with stardom came in Kuala Lumpur when the Indian team won the youth World Cup under his leadership.
Kohli himself excelled with the bat by finishing as the 3rd leading run-scorer in the tournament with 235 runs from six matches. This also included a stunning hundred off just 73 balls against the West Indies which ensured that the excitement levels around the prodigy rose up by several levels. The fact that he was the captain also reflects how highly the Indian selectors rated Kohli’s leadership skills was even at that young age.
From 2008 to 2020, Virat Kohli is almost indistinguishable from that chubby-faced prolific run-scorer to now being the world’s best batsman while also setting standards for the entire Indian cricket landscape. With as many as 21,474 runs and 70 international hundreds at the age of 31, Kohli’s career graph for the future seems scary to say the least. While the jury will always be out on choosing Sachin Tendulkar or Virat Kohli as the best ever Indian cricketer, the latter looks primed to break quite of his role model’s records.
Another sub-continent player, another pillar for his country, Babar Azam’s stocks in the last couple of years have sky-rocketed due to his unbelievable performances for the Pakistan senior team.
Just like Virat Kohli, Babar Azam was touted to be a future star even before the U-19 World Cup and the Pakistani prodigy’s efforts. Babar built on those expectations in two consecutive youth World Cups in 2010 and 2012. After piling on 298 runs in New Zealand, Babar came back two years later to end the 2012 U-19 World Cup with 287 runs. It is to be noted that Babar Azam not only excelled in alien conditions but also turned out to be Pakistan’s best performer in both editions.
Predictably, the 25-year-old is also Pakistan’s best batsman by a country mile with the youngster scoring runs all around the world. Even recently, Babar has been in a rich vein of form with Test hundreds in Australia and on home soil against Sri Lanka.
With Babar being only one out of two batsmen (With the other one being Virat Kohli) in the world to feature in the Top 10 of the ICC Rankings list for all formats, the sky seems to be the limit for this Pakistani fan favourite.
South Africa were longing for a ICC Cricket World Cup in any format, any age group and it was written in the stars for Kagiso Rabada to end the country’s long wait by lifting the U-19 World Cup in 2014.
The 24-year-old might be a going through a small rough patch currently but he has firmly established himself as one of the leading cricketers in the world over the last 3-4 years. Even at the tender age of 18, Rabada breathed fire during the 2014 U-19 Cricket World Cup to end the tournament with 14 wickets at an economy rate of 3.10. With Rabada turning out to be the most quickest and consistent bowlers on the relatively unfriendly UAE surfaces, South Africa coasted to their maiden World Cup win by defeating Pakistan in the final. Even though Rabada bowled a very tight 10-over spell in the final, his best performance in the tournament came in the semi-final when he ran through Australia’s batting line-up to end up with 6-25.
It is fair to say that Rabada has evolved and developed even more after the successful World Cup campaign to make a name for himself in senior cricket. From picking a six-wicket haul on ODI debut to topping the ICC Rankings for both ODIs and Tests, Rabada has already achieved a lot in his promising international career.
The 2019 World Cup winning English captain Eoin Morgan was also a star of the 2006 U-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka. Interestingly, Morgan featured as Ireland’s skipper in the U-19 World Cup with the southpaw going onto make 338 runs from six matches. This effort ensured that he finished the tournament as the second highest run-scorer behind another star in the form of Cheteshwar Pujara. His best knock was the 124-run knock against a New Zealand attack that had the likes of Tim Southee, Ronnie Hira and Hamish Bennett.
Thereafter, Morgan continued to play for the Irish senior team for a while which also included the 2007 50-over World Cup but he switched allegiances to England in 2009. Looking back at the decision after 11 years, it is fair to say that Morgan made one of the best choices in his cricketing life. After playing a sizeable role in England’s World T20 victory in 2010, Morgan is widely acclaimed for transforming the nation’s fortunes in limited overs cricket.
After taking over the reigns of England’s limited-overs cricket teams, Morgan delivered a stunning World Cup win on home soil in 2019. The 34-year-old is still going strong with his England team touted as one of the contenders for the 2020 ICC T20 World Cup.
Mehidy Hasan Miraz
It’s hard to believe that established Bangladeshi star Mehidy Hasan Miraz is still only 22 years old as his maturity has continuously belied his age. This is why it comes as no surprise that Mehidy Hasan Miraz went onto captain his country’s U-19 side in the World Cup in 2016 after leading the side in 2014 too.
Even before the 2016 World Cup began, there was an air of excitement around Mehidy as he had been in terrific form with both bat and ball. Add to this the fact that the World Cup was being held on home soil, the local fans expected Mehidy and his team to go a long way in the tournament. And so they did by reaching the semi-final before bowing out against eventual champions West Indies.
Although Bangladesh couldn’t lift the title like their fans hoped for, a big talent in the form of Mehidy had emerged. The Bangladesh skipper ended the tournament with 242 runs and 12 wickets in six matches. Such an all-round performance meant that Mehidy bagged the ‘Player of the Tournament’ award.
Since that tournament, Mehidy has emerged as a match-winner for the national team with him going onto win the ‘Man of the Series’ award in his first ever Test series against England. The young all-rounder has continued to build on such success with consistent performances especially on home soil. His batting has also seen constant improvement with Bangladesh promoting him higher up the order every now and then.