New Delhi: Cricket greats Rahul Dravid, Michael Atherton and Graeme Smith are looking forward to the ICC U19 World Cup, saying the “fantastic” tournament gives the young players the chance to test themselves against the best in their age group.
The 11th edition of the tournament will be played across four cities in Bangladesh from 27 January to 14 February and features nine Test-playing nations and seven Associate and Affiliate Members – Afghanistan, Canada, Fiji, Namibia, Nepal, Ireland and Scotland.
Dravid, a veteran of 164 Tests and 344 one-day internationals with more than 10,000 runs in both forms, lauded the tournament even though he himself never participated in one. He was 15 when the inaugural event was held in 1988 and had already become a Test cricketer when it was next played in 1998.
“It is a great opportunity for young players to be able to get exposure to the demands of international cricket,” said Dravid, who will coach the India side at the tournament.
“The event provides an opportunity to grow and learn, meet cricketers from other countries who you may go on to play against at the senior level for many years.
“Touring at a young age exposes you to the outside world and helps you explore and understand various cultures. That will go a long way in the development of a cricketer.”
Former England captain Atherton, now one of the most respected cricket commentators and writers, played in the first edition in Australia in 1988 alongside the likes of team-mate Nasser Hussain, West Indies great Brian Lara, Pakistan’s Inzamam-ul-Haq and Sanath Jayasuriya of Sri Lanka.
“It is a fantastic competition and a wonderful opportunity for the best young players around the world to test themselves against the best of their age-group,” said Atherton, who went on to play 115 Tests and 54 one-day internationals for England.
Atherton said the upcoming tournament will also “produce its share of great international players of the future.”
Smith, who played in the 2000 event in Sri Lanka and emerged as the top scorer in the tournament, said it was a “wonderful platform” and a “stepping stone into international level”.
“It doesn’t get bigger than that for a youngster,” said Smith, who was South Africa's youngest captain at 22 and played 117 Tests, 197 one-day internationals and 33 T20 games for his country.
“When you are under-19, you are inexperienced, so it is a real opportunity for you to gain the experience of playing against different players from around the world. A chance to learn how they play and think about the game. Try to put yourself in the pressure environment of a World Cup and see how you go as a player and as a team.
“Look at someone like Kagiso Rabada and how his career has jumped from under-19 cricket into a full blown international career.”
“At this stage, you have this opportunity and platform to go and put in performances that can make people sit up and take notice.”
Both Dravid and Atherton said the fact that Australia and India had won the title three times each and Pakistan twice spoke highly of the growth of age-group cricket in these countries.
“There are so many young people playing cricket in these countries,” said Dravid. “There is obviously a good system to unearth talent. In India, these youngsters get to play a lot of matches each year which helps to develop their game. But the last tournament was won by South Africa, which shows other nations are catching up too.”
Atherton held a similar view. “Australia would have some of the strongest youth cricket, particularly when young players are given a chance to play against men in grade cricket,” he said.
“India has more young cricketers than anywhere else where it is to an extent a numbers game. Pakistan could be among the most natural and instinctive. Beyond that, who knows,” he added.
Dravid hoped respective coaches travelling to Bangladesh will teach their young wards to take the highs and lows in the right spirit.
“These young players should not take the tournament as the crowning achievement of their careers but just a stepping stone for bigger things, like playing in the senior World Cup,” he said.
“They should enjoy the tournament and learn the nuances of the game and what needs to be done to perform in a competitive environment.”
Atherton said he had fond memories of the inaugural event in 1988, which was then called the Youth World Cup.
“It helped develop me as a player in one important aspect: we were billeted out among families for the stay, firstly in Renmark and then in Adelaide, so it was a chance to grow up, meet new people, adapt to different conditions for virtually the first time as a player,” he said. “It was stiflingly hot in South Australia and we had to adapt to pitches and conditions that were very alien to us.
“It was also good to measure ourselves against the best young players in other parts of the world like Lara and Inzamam. I think we all enjoyed our experience, although it would have been better to have gone beyond the semi-final!”
Smith also recalled his appearance in the 2000 tournament, saying it was a “wonderful experience.”
“It was my first opportunity to be involved in anything around international cricket,” he said. “I really enjoyed the event and though the wickets spun a little bit more than what we got in South Africa, I certainly enjoyed at the top of the order.
> “I loved the experience, I loved the opportunity to go and see another country, to experience it and to play. It was the first real recognition that may be there is something that I can go on and achieve in the game of cricket.”