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The impact of Under-19 stars in the IPL

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Under 19_U19_Final_Stars_Cricket"After winning a World Cup, you tend to have a chip on your shoulder, but definitely not these boys. A lot of credit to the way they've been brought up. Credit to Rahul Dravid as well. They always have good things to tell about Rahul. Having had somebody like that at the U-19 level is always going to help them." – Dinesh Karthik, on U19 players in the IPL.

Before the Indian Premier League began, many looked forward to the appearance of the Under-19 Indian World Cup winners on the grand stage. Players like Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi had shown their mettle in the junior level, but playing with the international stars was a different ball game altogether.

Would the young colts adapt to the big arena with ease or would they struggle with the transition? Did they have the potential to stand out in the big, bad world of cricket or did they lack the mental toughness to make a mark? Did they actually have the nerve to play against the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Chris Gayle or were they lacking in maturity?

It has hardly taken a month for these questions to be answered. With KKR’s Nagarkoti and Mitchell Starc ruled out of the tournament even before the IPL began, the onus lay on a young Mavi to step up after veteran Vinay Kumar conceded 17 runs in the final over against Chennai Super Kings.

Mavi was picked for his first game against SunRisers Hyderabad but was only brought into the attack for six balls in the 15th over. However, those six balls were enough for Mavi to make a mark. Bowling at 143kmph to the likes of Kane Williamson and Shakib Al Hasan, the young pacer showed he wasn’t intimidated by the stalwarts. He rushed Williamson into a pull but it was not until the next game that he picked up his first wicket.

Against Delhi, he cleverly mixed his lines and his lengths to send back Gautam Gambhir. Over the course of the tournament, he realised the importance of control. Facing a rampaging Chris Gayle, he consistently bowled his lethal away swingers, allowing the Universe Boss to just score 5 runs off him in one over.

Even though Mavi was expensive in his first few games, KKR captain Dinesh Karthik entrusted him with the final over on a number of occasions. Soon enough, he was cleverly mixing short balls with yorkers and preventing batsmen from settling down.

Gill, who has rarely gotten the chance to bat in his preferred position at the top of the order in this IPL, was pushed up to number 4 when KKR’s Nitish Rana was out injured against Chennai Super Kings. The player, who had been batting at number 6 or 7 before the CSK game, came out to bat with KKR at 40 for 2, still needing 138 runs more for a win.

Three boundaries off Shane Watson at the start of his innings laid the foundation for a match-winning knock and Gill ended on 57 from just 36 deliveries. His pull shots were measured and his innovative strokes, especially against Harbhajan Singh and KM Asif, a delight. So impressed was Karthik by the young player’s maturity that he did not even hesitate to change the batting order in KKR’s next game against Mumbai, so Gill could open the innings.

However, it has been Shaw who has impressed the most. Before the IPL began, the youngster had not played a single T20 game. While his First-Class average is an impressive 56.22, his List A average lies at a paltry 22.92. It was not long before he had been pigeonholed as a batsman who was not cut out for the shorter formats. But all it took was 5 games for Shaw to change that notion. With Tendulkaresque poise, Shaw grabbed his chances when Gambhir was dropped; in 5 games, he has scored 205 runs, including two fifties for Delhi Daredevils. Moreover, his strike-rate of 170.83 shows how dangerous he has been.

It was after this string of continued good performances by the trio that Karthik went on to praise the efforts of the Under-19 coach Rahul Dravid. Not only have the young players repeatedly stated how the veteran helped them perfect their technique, the senior players too have noticed a marked difference in the mannerisms and the behaviour of Dravid’s group when compared with other players their age.

None of Gill, Mavi or Shaw go into hysterics when they score a fifty, take a catch or claim a wicket. They conduct themselves in a perfect gentlemanly way on the field and they hardly get affected by being in high pressure situations.

Knowing that cricket remains a journey of ups and downs, the colts are aware that adapting and changing one’s style of play with calmness is the right way ahead. In this lies Dravid’s greatest impact.

Playing in the IPL straight after the World Cup will not only enable these cricketers to see the ocean of difference between age-group cricket and the grand stage of the sport, it will also help them improve their game in leaps and bounds. Sharing the dressing room with legends of the game will help them learn and grow.

If ever they feel that a World Cup win at the Under-19 stage is an automatic qualification for the international stage, they need not look beyond Unmukt Chand, who is nowhere to be seen after leading his Under-19 team to the title in 2012.

 

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