A note of caution for young champions
As Rahul Dravid walked on to the stage at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore to congratulate the U-19 side that had won the World Cup in such style, the fireworks started to go off. "That's for you boys, not for me," he said, before pausing for the noise levels to come down. It was just as well, because the message that he had for Virat Kohli and his victorious bunch should resonate within their minds long after the empty platitudes and hosannas are forgotten.
"What you give us is hope," he said. "We can believe that the future of Indian cricket is bright, and I hope that you'll be part of a World Cup win someday. That should really be your goal and inspiration.
"I just want you to remember that of the boys who won the U-19 World Cup in 2000, only one member [Yuvraj Singh] was part of the [CB Series] winning team in Brisbane today. It's something for you to think about. I played for the U-19s in 1991, and was the only one in my team to go on and play for India. This is the start of a critical phase in your lives. What you do from here on is what matters."
Anil Kumble, who was also applauded on to the stage by the young stars, echoed his team-mate's sentiments, saying it was now up to them to show "how hungry and desperate you are to wear the national colours."
Sobering words for the world champions, who arrived in Bangalore from Kuala Lumpur around 4pm and left in a double-decker bus - not quite the open-top affair for the World Twenty winners - left the airport just before 5. They arrived at the stadium an hour later, and a troupe of drummers and dancers was on hand to herald the arrival.
With the chief guests yet to arrive, the team was sent up to the pavilion balcony. Some, like Kohli, were on the phone, while others looked lost and a little overwhelmed, the poise shown on the field replaced by teenage shyness. Dressed in their sky-blue India shirts and beige trousers, more than a few had the gelled quiff and sparking ear-studs made popular David Beckham a generation ago.
When they finally came down, one of the first to go and congratulate them was Kumble, whose formal attire was quite a contrast with Kohli's forearm tattoo and frat-boy look. Dravid followed suit, shaking hands with each of the team, before they walked on to the stage to the strains of Chak De India, the hockey song now appropriated by all-powerful cricket.
With Rameshwar Thakur, the Karnataka governor, and Sharad Pawar, the BCCI chief, the main guests, Vijay Mallya, whose Bangalore Royal Challengers will grace the stadium once the IPL season starts, had to sit slightly removed from the limelight. And as the young brigade stood ramrod straight for the national anthem, one's eyes were drawn to the pugnacious features of Dav Whatmore, who had seen it all before with Sri Lanka in 1996.
With green laser-like beams streaking across the empty stands like a scene out of Matrix, Whatmore was one of the first to speak, "painting a little picture" of what had gone on behind the scenes in Malaysia. "Winning doesn't happen overnight," he said. "It doesn't happen by chance. This group of guys is really serious about their cricket, and they hate losing, even a practice match."
|Sadanand Viswanath sat in the throng, unrecognised by most. Just 23 years ago, he was part of an Indian side that went unbeaten through the World Championship of Cricket. His ebullience and skill behind the stumps had everyone reaching for superlatives but within two seasons, he was gone, lost to depression and a battle with the bottle|
He then teased Kohli by speaking of room for improvement on the toss front (one lucky call in six), before going on to say: "Skill outshines everything else. South Africa were worthy opponents, and exceptional in the field, but these guys bat and bowl a bit better."
Kohli thanked his mates, the support staff, the BCCI and the National Cricket Academy, "for nurturing us". "We had faith in ourselves," he said. "Each of the boys is so talented. After the low score in the final, we were a bit down in confidence. But I told the boys that we had to go out there and play the game of our lives."
Pawar referred to the group as "ideal bench strength for the Indian team", and went on to speak of how the nation's cricket was in rude health. "The game at all levels is flourishing in this country. I'm thrilled to find that cricket is no longer the preserve of the major cities."
Gazing at the two legends in the crowd, he urged the young champions to emulate "three of the greatest role models - Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid". "The feet of these gentlemen-cricketers are planted firmly on the ground," he said, before awarding medals and cheques to the triumphant few.
With tri-coloured confetti bursting into the night sky and Queen's We Are the Champions piped out from the massive speakers, Kohli lifted the trophy for a second time. As his jubilant team-mates gathered around him, the music changed to Right Said Fred's Stand Up for the Champions.
Among those in the throng, unrecognised by most of those who had come to catch a glimpse of the future, was Sadanand Viswanath. Just 23 years ago, he was part of an Indian side that went unbeaten through the World Championship of Cricket. His ebullience and skill behind the stumps had everyone reaching for superlatives but he was gone within two seasons, lost to depression and a battle with the bottle.
During the national anthem, seven orange balloons had floated off into the night sky. And if as many of these nascent careers go on to touch the clouds, Indian cricket will have a lot to be thankful for. But as Dravid rightly pointed out, there are cautionary tales everywhere.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo