Imagine a multi-nation tournament where Narendra Hirwani draws more attention than Brian Lara, where cricketers stay in the houses of locals, and where an India-Pakistan game ends in laughter. It all happened in 1988, at the first Under-19 World Cup.
Initiated as part of Australian cricket's bicentenary celebrations, the tournament showcased a number of stars who would go on to set the cricket world afire over the next decade. Lara sparkled brightest but several others - Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Chris Cairns and Sanath Jayasuriya - flirted with greatness too.
Devised by Graham Halbish, then the general manager of the Australian Cricket Board, the tournament was held across a number of picturesque rural venues in the Riverlands district of eastern South Australia, and the adjacent Sunraysia district of north-western Victoria. The settings were pastoral and reasonable crowds turned up, with players' families using it as an opportunity to socialise. Schoolchildren were regular visitors too, often staying back after games and testing their skills against the contestants.
Hirwani was one of the few who had played international cricket. Having exploded onto the scene with a sensational debut two months before - a 16-wicket bag against West Indies in Madras
- he was certainly the most popular among the participants.
"Everyone knew I had equalled Bob Massie's record and I remember giving a lot of interviews," he remembered. "I couldn't speak much English then, so our coach [Vasu Paranjpe] used to translate what I said. Even Lara came up to me and asked me about the Madras Test. He was a bit surprised that I had run through that West Indies line-up."
It wasn't the age for swank hotel rooms, so players were entrusted with local residents. Families allotted spare rooms for the boys, providing them with bed-and-breakfast arrangements. Some of those beds happened to be water beds, which the subcontinental cricketers took time to adjust to: fearing they would fall off, they preferred to sleep on the floor instead. The friendships the youngsters made with their hosts endured, and some Indian players returned to visit on their subsequent trips to Australia.
The competition was intense. Unlike in recent U-19 World Cups, the first edition had a fairly even playing field. "What's interesting is that not many took U-19 too seriously then, but all teams had quality players," says M Senthilnathan, the former Tamil Nadu batsman who led India in that tournament. "Recently, Australia and England have not been doing so well, but they had fine teams then."
A young Stuart Law guided Australia through the initial stages, making 89 against England, 72 against India, and 67 against New Zealand. Brett Williams, an opening batsman who went on to play only four first-class games for New South Wales, dazzled in the crunch games. His 134-ball 108 in the final
sealed the title, and he finished with 471 runs in the tournament, at a superb average of 52.3. Among the bowlers, Brian McFadyen, currently head coach at Australia's academy, had a good time with the new ball. But it was Wayne Holdsworth, his partner from NSW, who topped the wicket-takers' list with 19 at an outstanding average of 12.52.
Mushtaq Ahmed, who continues to bamboozle county batsmen, ranked alongside Holdsworth (his 19 wickets came at 16.21). Mushtaq turned in an economical spell when India were on course to chase down 195
, before Zahoor Elahi, a batsman who bowled a bit of medium pace, took 4 for 15 in 5.3 overs. "I was the last man in and they kept joking with me when I batted," says Hirwani, "so by the time the match ended, we were all laughing."
Pakistan overcame West Indies in a thrilling semi-final
at the Adelaide Oval, with Mushtaq in the middle when the two-wicket triumph was sealed. They came up short in the final, though, where Williams and Law gave the locals plenty to cheer about. A lanky left-arm seamer from Western Australia was part of the celebrations too. He went on to make his debut eight years later and finished with 58 wickets in 19 Tests. His name? Alan Mullally.
Players from the first youth World Cup who went on to play international cricket:
Australia: Stuart Law, Alan Mullally (later England)
ICC Associates: Aminul Islam (Bangladesh), Harunur Rashid (Bangladesh), Nicholas Ifill (Canada), Tim de Leede (Holland), Dean Minors (Bermuda), Glen Bruk-Jackson (Zimbabwe)
England: Mike Atherton, Mark Ramprakash, Nasser Hussain, Chris Lewis, Mark Alleyne, Warren Hegg, Peter Martin, Simon Brown
India: Nayan Mongia, Venkatapathy Raju, Narendra Hirwani, Subroto Bannerjee, Praveen Amre
New Zealand: Shane Thomson, Chris Cairns, Lee Germon, Mark Douglas
Pakistan: Basit Ali, Inzamam ul-Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Zahoor Elahi, Aaqib Javed, Shakeel Khan
Sri Lanka: Sanjeewa Ranatunga, Sanath Jayasuriya, Chandika Hathurusinghe, Chaminda Mendis, Romesh Kaluwitharana, Sanjeewa Weerasinghe, Johanne Samarasekera (later UAE)
West Indies: Brian Lara, Jimmy Adams, Robert Samuels, Roland Holder, Ridley Jacobs, Nehemiah Perry, Rajendra Dhanraj