Polishing the rough diamonds
The Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh has been a huge success, with record crowds flocking to watch the most unlikely of matches. In this week's Round the World column, Rabeed Imam assesses the impact of the tournament:
Bangladesh's Under-19 cricketers lift the Plate Championship trophy
© Getty Images
Under-19 cricket isn't renowned for catching the imagination, but there is one place in the world where it can become a cause for passionate celebrations. That's why the ICC pulled off a masterstroke two years ago, when it awarded the fifth youth World Cup to Bangladesh. They might not have realised it back then, but the decision would change the image of the teenagers' game forever - maybe not the quality of the cricket, but most certainly the happenings on its periphery.
From the moment the tickets went on sale, it became a tournament of firsts. For the first time, people would pay to watch the U19 World Cup. For the first time, matches would be played in front of sellout crowds. The media, both local and international, would make the World Cup its priority sports news. The number of journalists covering the event would be several times higher than for all the past competitions combined. The matches would take place in more venues than ever before, and there would be a guaranteed 100 million people catching it on TV, with India's encounters being televised live. And what's more, not one of the 54 games was affected by the weather.
Regardless of all the euphoria, the standard of cricket still left a lot to be desired. The under-19s are supposed to represent the most exciting young talents of a nation. But very few players made any earth-shattering statements. Most sides had one - occasionally two - batsmen who consistently made runs. The pace attacks of all the teams were dominated by nagging medium-pacers who were a touch on the slow side. But with helpful conditions to spur them on, there were some impressive displays from the variety of spinners on display - Pakistan's Tariq Mahmood, the Indian leggie Abhishek Sharma, and Bangladesh's slow left-armer Enamul Haque junior were particularly impressive.
Tariq started and finished the World Cup as the leading spinner on display. Pakistan's fans, his team-mates and coach all revere his ability. He has a remarkably similar wristand arm-action to Muttiah Muralitharan - and the murmurs have been pretty loud - but he turns his doosra significantly further than Murali, and he was at his best when the pressure was on in the semi-final and final. India's batsmen were lost in his mystical web, while the West Indians tried to slog in desperation and paid the price. Tariq was no mug with the bat, either, and looked to be a middle-order player in the making with his matchwinning 45 not out against India in the semi-final.
Among the batsmen, there were several rough diamonds on display - players who, with a bit of polish, might go on to become vital cogs in their national sides for years to come. India's left-hand opener Shikhar Dhawan was once such player. He displayed a gluttonous appetite for runs, and after carrying his bat for 155 not out against Scotland in the first match, he went on to blast two more hundreds and a fifty in the next six games, to total 505 runs at a fantastic average of 84.16. Dhawan's technique is sound and effective, and what is more he is the antithesis of a glamour cricketer. He has a temperament of gold, and with an opener's berth still up for grabs in the Indian Test side, it is not inconceivable that he could be drafted in sooner rather than later.
In a World Cup that lacked firepower, Bangladesh's Shahadat Hossain Rajib was a notable and extremely welcome exception. He was discovered during a talent-spotting camp in Narayanganj and whisked away to the Bangladesh Institute of Sports (BKSP) for refinement, and after being given his first international exposure this month, he has now been called up for the Bangladesh A team. Shahadat has all the necessary attributes for a genuine fast bowler. He is tall, comes in off a smooth run-up, and doesn't put unnecessary pressure on his body with his slightly open-chested angular delivery position. He has a strong frame and endurance in abundance. He is naturally aggressive and above everything, has raw pace. If he maintains his development, he could be a godsend for Bangladesh in the coming years.
The most notable events of the tournament were Nepal's upstaging of South Africa, and Australia missing out on qualification for the Super League. But these were results that could happen at any time in such tournaments, as mistakes are common. Experience also played a part. While the teams of the subcontinent brought in players with first-class and even international exposure, Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand assembled groups largely consisting of schoolboys who played with an unmistakable touch of naivety.
And though Bangladesh won the consolatory Plate Championship, beating the might of Australia, it would be the legacy of the World Cup that has to be acknowledged as the country's main accomplishment. In a land where every patch of open space risks being gobbled up by powerful concerns, the establishment of five new international-standard stadiums in Bogra, Khulna, Rajshahi, Chittagong and Fatullah is a massive step for the development of Bangladeshi cricket, and will enable the next generation to fulfil their expectations.
Rabeed Imam is senior sub-editor of the Daily Star in Dhaka.