January 15, 2010

All grown up

As another Under-19 World Cup gets underway, we look at the boys of the 2008 edition who are now men with international responsibilities

Adrian Barath
Barath came to Kuala Lumpur as the boy who had caught Brian Lara's eye at the age of 11. He was short and stocky, wore braces, and spoke confidently with a strong Trinidadian accent, recalling with pride his rise through age-group cricket, reeling off details meticulously. His earnestness and ambition shone through - both fine qualities to possess when on the cusp of global recognition. Barath, however, had an ordinary World Cup: he was under the weather and, although he possessed a tight technique, made only 84 runs in five matches. His opening partner, the towering Kieran Powell, was the attention grabber for his flamboyant hitting. In November 2009, though, Barath was opening with another physically imposing partner, Chris Gayle, facing the new ball against Australia at the Gabba. His first innings produced only 15 but his second was a 104 remarkable for its poise; a final glimpse of promise in a miserable decade for West Indies. Barath spoke, after his century, of the importance he gave Test cricket in this world of Twenty20. He wasn't being just politically correct, for he did not register for the IPL auction in 2010. During the time between the U-19 World Cup and his Test debut, the highlights of Barath's progress were a century for West Indies A against an England XI attack comprising James Anderson, Steve Harmison, Ryan Sidebottom and Graeme Swann; a call-up to the Test squad for the home series against Bangladesh; and a string of impressive performances for Trinidad & Tobago in the Champions League Twenty20.

Virat Kohli
As captain of one of the teams tipped to win the U-19 World Cup, Kohli exuded a confidence beyond his 19 years. Walking around the Sunway Pyramid hotel in shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops, Kohli, ear studs, tattoos and all, carried the swagger of someone who knew he belonged. It wasn't a façade either, for he had already represented his zonal side, and exhibited immense mental strength by playing a valuable innings for Delhi hours after his father's death. Kohli was aggressive during the World Cup - in batting, fielding and captaincy - and played the innings of the tournament: a century off 74 balls against West Indies, notable for powerful drives straight and through the off side. He also led by example during a ruthless defence of 159 in the final against South Africa. Kohli's performances in Malaysia caught Vijay Mallya's attention and won him an IPL contract with the Royal Challengers Bangalore. A strong showing during an Emerging Players tournament in Australia resulted in a surprise call-up to India's ODI squad for a tour to Sri Lanka as early as August 2008. Kohli has now played 20 ODIs and has moved ahead of the likes of Rohit Sharma in the pecking order, though his opportunities have come only when one of the team's regulars is unavailable or injured. Encouragingly he has made starts in virtually all his games but also displayed a worrying tendency to give it away with ill-advised aggressive shots. His maiden century finally came in his 13th innings, when he scored 107 chasing 316 against Sri Lanka, and it could be the breakthrough that sets his India career on course.

Wayne Parnell
Parnell was arguably the most impressive cricketer at the 2008 World Cup. His responsibilities included South Africa's captaincy, aggressive middle-order batting and potent new-ball swing bowling. He was tough too: Parnell took the field in the quarter-final against Bangladesh despite a fever and sore throat, scored 57, took 6 for 8 in five devastating overs and set-up a 201-run victory. He left Malaysia as the leading wicket-taker, with 18 in six matches. His mates at Eastern Province wouldn't have been surprised, for Parnell had been a hot talent since the age of 12 and made his first-class debut in October 2006. Thereafter, he started to climb the rungs towards the senior team. He was part of the Emerging Players squad to Australia in March 2008, won the South African Under-19 Player of the Year award in June, was part of the South Africa A squad for the home series against Sri Lanka A in July, and received an inevitable call-up to the national side for the limited-overs leg of the Australia tour in December, where he made his ODI and Twenty20 debuts. Parnell was also included in the squad for the third Test of the home series against Australia in March 2009, although he didn't play. Later that month he became the youngest player to be awarded a central contract by CSA. Kent signed him for the 2009 county season and it was in England, during the World Twenty20, that he arrived. He bowled with pace and accuracy, during the Powerplay and final overs, and took nine wickets at an economy rate of less than six an over. But it hasn't been all rosy. He was suspended by his domestic side, the Warriors, for a Supersport Series match because of disciplinary issues and had to wait till the final match of the home series against England to make his Test debut.

Umar Akmal
No other cricketer from the U-19 World Cup has become as important to his national side as the younger Akmal: a precocious talent and the future of Pakistan's batting. At the moment he's aggressive, charged by the fearlessness of youth, has technique, and has shown adaptability, playing valuable innings in all three formats: an unbeaten 72-ball 102 against Sri Lanka in his third ODI, a match-winning Twenty20 half-century against New Zealand on a tough pitch in Dubai, and an attacking hundred and a mature fifty on Test debut in Dunedin. He coped admirably at No. 3 on a seaming green top in Wellington, and had success in Australia as well. He averages 55 after five Tests and if he tempers his tendency to self-destruct when in control, he could go far. An indication of what was to come, though, wasn't on show in Malaysia. Akmal opened the innings for Pakistan and rarely stayed at the crease long enough to make an impact, falling for single-digit scores in three out of five innings. His best, 17 off 13 balls, included four boundaries. His coach, Mansoor Rana, however, had immense faith in Akmal's abilities, saying he could win a game in 10 overs. Akmal, while speaking, was shy, not as expressive as some of the others in Malaysia. He confessed a desire, before the semi-final against Australia, to play an innings that "will make people forget the failures". He didn't do it then but he has now.

Mohammad Aamer
Singled out as a special talent as early as May 2007 by no less than Wasim Akram, Aamer, not yet 16 at the time, was tipped to be one of the stars of the World Cup. He began well, with 3 for 12 against Malaysia, but his tournament ended soon after because he caught the dengue virus and returned home. Aamer, however, did not need the youth World Cup to rise. As a lithe, wiry fast bowler capable of speeds around 150kph, he took 55 wickets in his debut first-class season and was included in Pakistan's World Twenty20 squad. Sohail Tanvir's poor form gave Aamer a chance to bowl with the new ball in England and he was exceptional. Few more experienced bowlers could have bowled a better opening over in the final - a maiden and the wicket of Tillakaratne Dilshan, the tournament's best batsman, bounced out for a five-ball duck. Aamer went on to make his ODI and Test debuts in Sri Lanka in July 2009 and is currently part of Pakistan's first-choice pace attack.

Tim Southee
Southee was one of a kind in the 2008 World Cup - the only player, out of 240, with international experience, having played two Twenty20s against England. He was also the tournament's fiercest bowler, using his height and strong build to good effect. His pace and ability to bounce the ball sharply brought him 17 wickets at an average of 6.64 and economy of 2.52, and the Player-of-the-Tournament award. He was the first bowler to challenge a strong Indian batting order, taking 4 for 29 in the semi-final. The World Cup performance fast-tracked his career and he was part of the New Zealand line-up for the deciding Napier Test against England in March 2008. He surprised everyone, taking 5 for 55 in the first innings and then biffing 77 off 40 balls with nine sixes in the second. With New Zealand losing players, to retirement and the ICL, Southee was given a national contract the following month. He has been a regular member of New Zealand squads in all three formats and should soon find a permanent spot in the XI.

Phillip Hughes
Short, confident, sporting spiky blond hair and ear studs, Hughes was one of only two Australians in the U-19 World Cup squad with first-class experience (Steven Smith was the other). But like most of his team-mates, he had an ordinary tournament - 89 runs in four innings - as Australia were eliminated in the quarter-finals. However, coach Brian McFadyen said Hughes was definitely one to watch out for because it was a rarity for an U-19 cricketer to already have played first-class cricket. Less than a month later, 19-year-old Hughes became the youngest to score a century in a Pura Cup final. He then made the Australia A squad for the tour of India in August 2008, scored plenty of centuries for New South Wales, and was the Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year. Matthew Hayden's retirement at the end of the home series against South Africa in 2008-09 created a vacancy at the top of the order and Hughes beat Phil Jaques to it. At the Wanderers, Hughes became Australia's youngest debutant since Craig McDermott. He followed a duck on debut with 75, 115 and 160 in his next three innings and seemed destined to be Hayden's successor. A stint with Middlesex - 574 runs in five innings - preceded the Ashes but that was where the honeymoon ended. England exploited his susceptibility against the short ball, and after failures in three Ashes innings Hughes was dropped and watched Shane Watson forge a productive opening partnership with Simon Katich.

Ravindra Jadeja
Jadeja had played the U-19 World Cup in 2006 and in Malaysia he had the confidence that only experience can give. He was one of India's leading players - a cool head on the field and a jovial prankster off it - and contributed to India's victory with a crucial spell in the final. His all-round skills - energetic batting, economical left-arm spin, and swift fielding - were vital and he was Kohli's right-hand man. Jadeja's performances won him a place in the Rajasthan Royals squad for the inaugural IPL, and Shane Warne's admiration. Jadeja caught the selectors' eye with 42 wickets and 729 runs in the 2008-09 Ranji Trophy and was called up for a tour of Sri Lanka in February 2009. He's been in India's limited-overs set-up since - moving ahead of Yusuf Pathan in the allrounders' pecking order - and went to the World Twenty20 as well, but is yet to cement his spot.

Seven other players from that World Cup have also made their international debuts: Darren Bravo and Kieran Powell (West Indies), Dolar Mahmud and Rubel Hossain (Bangladesh), Thissara Perera and Lahiru Thirimanne (Sri Lanka), and Ahmed Shezhad (Pakistan).

George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo