India have made six finals and won four titles in the last eight editions of the U-19 World Cup. Hence Indians dominating in the tournament and these youngsters then making a splash at IPL auctions has become a sort of biannual affair. But not always do those with handsome IPL contracts find playing opportunities or instant success on the big stage. Follow IPL 2022 Coverage
The current IPL has been one such where the U-19 stars have got little chance to shine. The collective game-time for the four victorious India U-19 World Cup cricketers picked has been restricted to the two matches Raj Bawa played for Punjab Kings.
Bawa hit a jackpot when he pocketed ₹2 crore in the auction, but after two quiet matches with the bat, he hasn’t got another opportunity. The Chandigarh all-rounder, who bagged a five-for in the U-19 final win in the Caribbean hasn’t got a single over to showcase that facet of his game. The other three from the U-19 team—captain and batter Yash Dhull (Delhi Capitals), fast bowler and lower-order striker Rajvardhan Hangargekar (CSK) and left-arm spinner Vicky Ostwal (DC) have remained consigned to the bench.
While the national selectors are not afraid of handing international caps to IPL success stories, franchise managements are skeptical of trusting U-19 performers. The U-19 to IPL transition would thus appear an uphill climb. Hangargekar, who was handed a ₹1.5 crore contract by Chennai Super Kings for impressing with pace and new ball skills in the junior World Cup is being groomed for the future.
“We know he has performed at the U-19 level but this is a step up,” CSK coach Stephen Fleming recently said. “We are very conscious of the skills he needs to perform. We don’t just want to throw him and do damage to him. If an opportunity arises, we will certainly put him in. But pace is one thing. How to use it at the big stage is very important. We are not going to mess around with a talent like him.”
Franchises are more confident of U-19 players who have gained first-class experience. It’s something the current crop lack with no Ranji Trophy played in 2020 due to Covid. Many good players from the U-19 World Cup were deemed ineligible for the auction as they hadn’t played first-class cricket and were yet to turn 19. Delhi’s Dhull is an exception. He scored centuries in both innings on his Ranji Trophy debut against Tamil Nadu in February before joining DC.
“Many from the previous U-19 crop are getting a go this year. The likes of Tilak Verma and Yashasvi Jaiswal took some time but they are now finding their feet,” said Saba Karim, talent scout with Delhi Capitals. “First-class experience offers the franchises a window to check if they can adapt to this level.”
Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Rishabh Pant and Washington Sundar are all past U-19 players who got a break in IPL before playing first-class cricket. Leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi found IPL success straightaway without playing any multi-day cricket at the state level, but that had a lot to do with his T20 specific bowling skills.
Similarly South African Dewald Brevis’ ball-striking ability was so attractive that Mumbai Indians saw value in what he could offer. In his six matches the 19-year-old has played this season, he has played many sparkling innings and is already seen as a long-term prospect.
There are other young players whose game is built on a more orthodox technique. This is common in Indian cricket where they do not get to play T20 cricket at state level early on. “You look at Hrithik Shokeen. He plays a lot of multi-day cricket in Delhi and has all those distinctive multi-day bowling skills required to become a good spin bowler. He has a classical action and he can look to adapt,” says Karim, who was the BCCI game development manager.
Karim backs BCCI’s policy not to introduce competitive T20 cricket to youth cricketers and says it serves Indian cricket interests in the long term. Last week, while their India U-19 teammates were warming the benches in IPL, Haryana’s Nishant Sindhu and Dinesh Bana and Mumbai’s Angkrish Raghuvanshi were involved in the Cooch Behar trophy (U-19 multi-day competition) final at Eden Gardens.
In a tournament like IPL, a lot of calls are made in the nets where the coaching staff gets to see the players at length. “I am not sure all of them take the right selection calls,” says a BCCI insider involved in junior cricket. “There is no other way to explain Yash Dhull not getting a game. He is one cricketer with Ranji Trophy experience, having scored three hundreds, including a double ton. He is ready to play.”
Dhull, a product of Delhi Capitals Academy, was roped in for ₹50 lakh in the auction.