Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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The Under-19 World Cup has become an important event in the ICC calendar since it was reinstated in 1998 after a ten-year gap. Every two years, hundreds of aspirants hope to use the tournament as a platform to make it to their national teams, but only a handful transition smoothly.
While the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, R Ashwin, Mitchell Starc and Kieron Pollard have gone on to become superstars of the game despite not featuring in age-group cricket's biggest spectacle, many have used it as a springboard for higher honours. Here's a look at those named the best players in each edition since 1998 and where they are currently.
1998: Chris Gayle
The 'Universe Boss' title was more than a decade away. The big biceps, tattooed arms and Gangnam-style celebrations were yet to become a rage. But a lanky Jamaican, once deemed underweight, was hitting sixes for fun back then too.
West Indies didn't come anywhere close to the title, but Gayle stood out when he made 141 not out in his team's total of 243 for 8 against Bangladesh in the Plate final. Today, he's a two-time T20 World champion, has two Test triple-hundreds, is a T20 colossus who is still going strong at 40 and hopes to play competitive cricket until 45.
2000: Yuvraj Singh
Four months before the dirt of the match-fixing scandal rocked Indian cricket, Yuvraj Singh hogged a good chunk of airtime and print space for his attractive ball-striking and electric fielding.
As he returned home as a junior World Cup winner from Sri Lanka, ESPNcricinfo titled him the 'cleanest striker of the white ball since Sachin Tendulkar'. Few will dispute that claim even today, with Yuvraj happily into international retirement. Spearheading India's campaign in two World Cup wins and overcoming a bout of cancer before making a comeback when not many gave him a chance will remain part of his legacy.
2002: Tatenda Taibu
A Test cricketer at 18, vice-captain at 19 and the youngest Test captain at 20: Taibu's rise in a nutshell. He stole the show at the 2002 edition by bowling seam-ups, scoring runs and keeping wickets. Zimbabwe won the Plate championship and Taibu walked away with the Player-of-the-Tournament award.
In 2005, he stepped down from captaincy in protest against bad governance by Zimbabwe Cricket and poor player contracts. His best years - from age 22 to 28 - were spent in exile after receiving threats for protesting against the board. Currently, Taibu runs an academy in Harare, after finishing a stint as national selector and assistant coach to Heath Streak. Last year, he made a first-class comeback when he turned up for a Sri Lankan club.
2004: Shikhar Dhawan
They called him the left-handed Virender Sehwag of India's under-19 team. In the 2004 edition, Dhawan shellacked 505 runs, a tournament record, when none of the others managed even 400. He formed a fearsome opening combination with Robin Uthappa, scoring three centuries and a half-century as India finished as one of the semi-finalists. Between 2004 and 2008, Dhawan was on the periphery of Delhi cricket but consistency eluded him.
He had to wait for six years to break into the senior team in 2010, made the fastest century by a Test debutant in 2013, spearheaded India's run to the Champions Trophy title in the same year and established his place across formats. Today, while Dhawan's chances of a Test comeback look remote, he continues to remain in the frame in white-ball cricket.
2006: Cheteshwar Pujara
Even then he showed the penchant to score big runs, finishing at the top of the batting charts that also featured Eoin Morgan, Dean Elgar and Rohit Sharma. His runs got India an entry into the final, but was out for a duck, to a devious inswinger from Anwar Ali in the final hurdle. Chasing a paltry 110, India were blown away for 71 as Pakistan snatched the title with a blistering display of swing bowling.
Pujara made his India debut in 2010 and took over the famed No. 3 spot in the Test team from Rahul Dravid in 2012. Recently, he orchestrated India's maiden Test series win in Australia by scoring 521 runs in four Tests. And when his team-mates are busy scoring sixes and picking up wickets at the IPL, Pujara grinds it out in England in the County Championship.
2008: Tim Southee
While the tournament is remembered for Virat Kohli's entry into the public eye, it was Tim Southee who stole the show despite New Zealand crashing out in the semi-final. He picked 17 wickets, second only to South Africa captain Wayne Parnell's 18. His average was a stunning 6.64 and economy a mind-boggling 2.52. Having played his maiden T20I just before the tournament, Southee was handed a Test debut soon after it where he took 5 for 55 and smashed 77 off 40 balls from No. 10 against England.
Twelve years on, Southee has captained New Zealand in T20Is and remains an integral part of a pace attack consisting Trent Boult, Matt Henry, Lockie Ferguson and Neil Wagner. He holds the record for the best bowling figures by a New Zealand bowler in ODIs.
2010: Dominic Hendricks
In an edition that featured future stars like KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Marsh, it was South Africa's Dominic Hendricks who walked away with the Player-of-the-Tournament award for being the leading run-scorer, with 391 runs at 97.75. His team, however, finished fifth.
Hendricks went on to complete a degree in Sports Science from the University of Johannesburg, and is, at the time of writing, a first-class veteran of 126 matches. Outside of cricket, Hendricks is an avid photographer. At 29, a national call-up isn't on the horizon, but he can draw inspiration from Pieter Malan, who after many seasons of scoring heavily, finally got his due last month.
2012: William Bosisto
Australia lost the final to India at Townsville, but Bosisto, the captain, finished sixth among the competition's leading runs-scorers behind future internationals Anamul Haque, Babar Azam, Javed Ahmadi and Quinton de Kock, and Chad Bowes to be adjudged Player of the Tournament.
That still remains the major highlight of his career, similar in many ways to the journey of his opposite number Unmukt Chand, who made the match-winning hundred in the final to become a poster boy in India. Eight years since breaking out, Bosisto has managed a mere 24 first-class appearances, scoring 1008 runs at 24. In 2014, he was suspended from bowling his part-time offspin after his action was found illegal.
2014: Aiden Markram
Markram soaked up the pressure to make a superb half-century against a canny Pakistan attack to deliver South Africa's first world title since 1998, when they won the ICC Knockout Trophy in Dhaka. Under his captaincy, the team remained unbeaten in the tournament, thereby shedding the infamous 'chokers' tag associated with the national side.
This was their third appearance in the final of the Under-19 World Cup, their first since slipping against Kohli's India in 2008. As good as Markram was with the bat, a lot of plaudits were also reserved for Kagiso Rabada, who blew Australia away in the semi-final, regularly clocking over 140kph at that age. Both have since graduated to become senior members in South Africa national teams.
2016: Mehidy Hasan
For the first time in the tournament's history, Bangladesh were considered title contenders. Playing at home, Mehidy Hasan handled the pressure of expectations quite superbly, without allowing it to affect his own performance. His rhythmic action, the pivot and the followthrough earned him praise from pundits and fans alike.
He bailed out the team with bat and ball regularly, and also led the way in the field. Bangladesh's progress to the semi-final also spoke volumes about his leadership. Four years on, he has graduated to become one half of a successful spin combine with Shakib Al Hasan. He continues to remain a fierce threat at home, playing a stellar roles in Bangladesh's historic Test wins over Australia and England.
2018: Shubman Gill
There's a particular shot which AR Srikkanth, Kolkata Knight Riders' talent scout, saw at the 2018 edition in New Zealand and immediately sent a message through to the team owners that they had to bid for him at the IPL auction that was to follow that year. It was a short-arm jab for six to a fast bowler. No flourish; his strong forearms and excellent hand-eye coordination did the trick. During the tournament, he received a bid for INR 1.8 crore (USD 281,000 at the time), to put him into the big leagues.
Gill was the tournament's most consistent batsman, and showed his temperament in the semi-final against Pakistan, when he overcame verbal volleys and helped India ride a rough passage to score a match-winning century. He made his India debut a year after his Under-19 World Cup heroics. While he is still on the periphery of the Test side, there's little doubt of his talent and quality.