FOR THE last one decade, Amritsar youngster Abhishek Sharma would often hear his father former Punjab cricketer Raj Kumar Sharma’s talk of missing out on an India U-19 berth in the late 1980s. The following years would see the senior Sharma coach Abhishek as a left-handed batsman and spinner, and Thursday marked the biggest achievement for the Sharma family as Abhishek was named as the captain of the Indian U-19 team which will feature in the Youth Asia Cup to be held in Sri Lanka in December this year. Along with Sharma, Mohali youngster Shubman Gill, who had bagged the best U-16 cricketer BCCI award in 2014-15 and 2015-2016, was also named in the 15-member team, which was announced by BCCI.
“It is my first year as an U-19 cricketer and to captain the U-19 cricket team for the Youth Asia Cup feels like a dream for me. My father was part of India U-16 and U-19 camps but could not make it to the Indian teams and shifted to UAE to seek better opportunities. My selection is like fulfilling my father’s dream of playing for India. He stopped coaching earlier as he wanted to see me in the Indian team and this is the biggest day of my as well as my father’s cricketing career. I had a talk with him today and he told me to bring one India shirt for him as well from Sri Lanka,” said 16-year-old Abhishek Sharma, whose father Raj Kumar Sharma also played club cricket for Bradford in England and UAE.
Having started playing cricket at Gandhi Ground, Amritsar, Abhishek first made an impression in the U 16 Vijay Merchant Trophy in 2014-15 season when he scored 550 runs apart from claiming 20 wickets. Last year saw him amass 1,200 runs, which also included a double century against Jammu and Kashmir, apart from making a rich haul of 57 wickets in the tournament. He was inducted into the National Cricket Academy, Bengaluru. He scored two centuries in U-19 Vinoo Mankad Trophy this year apart from captaining India U-19 Red Team which won the U-19 Challenger Trophy at Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh, last week.
“My role model has been Yuvraj bhaji and I try to bowl like him. The 57 wickets last year gave me a lot of confidence, and wickets in Sri Lanka will also help my spin. Travelling with the Punjab team gave me a chance to interact with Indian players Mandeep Singh and Gurkeerat Mann, who shared tips with me. Former players like Ravneet Rickey, Harvinder Singh, T P Singh and coaches like Munish Bali, Sanjay Mahajan and Sandeep Sawal have helped me a lot during training,” said Abhishek, who is a student of DPS, Amritsar, and is currently playing for Punjab U-19 side in Cooch Behar Trophy in Baroda along with Gill.
Mohali lad 17-year-old Shubman Gill, who had scored 1,018 runs in U-16 Vijay Merchant Trophy in 2014-15, shifted base from his native village Chak Kherewala near Fazilka in 2007, was adjudged as the best U-16 cricketer in India in 2014 and 2015 by BCCI. Son of agriculturist Lakhwinder Singh, Shubman was also the captain of the Punjab U-16 team which won the Vijay Merchant Trophy in 2014-15 apart from scoring 450 runs in three innings in the same tournament.
Shubman also scored 500 runs in the Cooch Behar Trophy last year. “I am on top of the world. I have performed well at the U-16 level and U-19 is something where I will get a chance to do well against international teams. I had a chance to meet my idol Virat Kohli during the BCCI awards last year and he told me to perform my best at every level. And a good performance in Sri Lanka will help me make a good start for the U-19 World Cup to be played in New Zealand in 2018,” said Shubman, who trains under coach Sukhwinder Tinkoo and was also part of the record 587-run partnership with Nirmal Singh in Punjab U-16 tourney in 2014.
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Punjab Cricket Association secretary G S Walia believes that the youngsters can represent Indian senior side in the coming year.