The Indian U-19 side tasted rare success in Australia earlier this month,winning the four-nation tournament there. And the win came courtesy four junior stars from the region- three Punjab players and one from Himachal Pradesh,were not just part of the victorious Indian team,but three of them played big roles in the teams victory over the hosts Australia. Sandeep Sharma,the Punjab pacer, was the bowling star. Having made his Ranji Trophy debut for Punjab in 2011,the Patiala-born Sandeep rounded-off the season by becoming the highest wicket-taker in the tournament. It was his four-wicket haul in the final against the Aussies that helped India win. Sandeep,along with another Punjab medium-pacer Kamal Passi,designed India teams surge towards the final and,then,the title victory. Sandeep claimed eight while Kamal bagged seven wickets in four matches for the Indian youth team while also providing major breakthroughs for the team.
Sharing his experience of bowling on the Australian wickets,Sandeep,18,said,The Australian wickets are altogether different from what we have in India. The fact that we had not played on such wickets before made life tough for our batsmen and also the bowlers. Initially,on seeing the bounce and pace,all the quickies got excited and we all kept bowling short-length deliveries. We did not realise that the Australians,Kiwis and English would be comfortable in tackling short-length balls. After losing our first three games,we realised that we need to bowl at good length and make the batsmen play shots. And we worked out a plan by watching videos of the matches and thereafter,the opposition batsmen struggled to score runs freely.
India had lost all their three league games but got an even chance for the title with the tournament format featuring semi-finals. The bowlers justified the captain’s decision to field in the final,with medium-pacer Sandeep Sharma taking four wickets as Australia were restricted to 194 for 9.
As a bowler,I learnt how to handle pressure situations and also adjust to new conditions and wickets. It was tough beating Australia on their home turf, added Sandeep,whose father is an agriculturist in a village near Patiala.
Not many know that Sandeep,when 13,started out as a batsman for his school,Multi Purpose School in Patiala. During a net practice session coach Munish Bali saw his bowling talent and persuaded him to take to quick bowling. Sandeep who idolises James Anderson,is capable of moving the ball off the air and the wicket and focuses on line and length. He is touted to be the permanent future prospect for Punjab senior bowling department.
The Amritsar lad Kamal Passi was another quick bowler who impressed during the quadrangular tournament Down Under,where the U-19 World Cup would take place in August later this year. Speaking on the WC preparations,Passi,19,said,It was wonderful to get a chance to play in Australia during the quadrangular series. We got to know about the wickets,conditions and also how to bowl and face worlds top-players. We will be prepared well when we go there during the WC. Passi is the grandson of former Amritsar Gandhi Grounds grounds man.
Apart from the Indian captain Unmukt Chand,who made a sparkling century in the final to guide India to the championship win,Punjabs Manan Vohra also had a decent outing in the tournament. Although,he had just one fifty to his name,against England in the final,Manan along with Unmukt faced the highly impressive pacers from Australia,England and New Zealand. Manan was brave enough to face Australian star Pat Cummins in the final and scored 23 runs to help chase down 198. The Chandigarh lad,Manan,19,an opener who shone in the quadrangular series held in India in 2011,has set his eyes on the upcoming Asia Cup to be held in Malaysia in June. He said,The present Indian U-19 unit is working towards its goals quite intelligently. I learnt a lot from the Australian tour. But the conditions in Malaysia will be entirely different from Australia. Malaysian wickets will be slower and the conditions will be hot and humid. For that we need to be in a different mind set altogether. I am looking forward to the conditioning camp that will take place in Chennai ahead of the Asia Cup. Hopefully,we can win that also.
Manan,along with Sandeep and Passi,was part of the Indian U-19 team that played in the quadrangular series in 2011 and had impressed with his aggressive opening skills against the visiting teams. His knock of 79 runs off 35 balls against Australia then earned him reckoning. Manan also made his Ranji debut for Punjab in 2011.
Another Chandigarh lad who plays for Himachal Pradesh,Prashant Chopra,was also in the Indian youth team in Australia,but unfortunately he got just one chance. Although he is a specialist opener,he was sent at number six in the lone match he played in the tournament. Chopra is also a part-time leg spinner,and has represented Himachal Pradesh in the under-15,-16 and -19 age categories. Chopra has also been a part of his states List A team over the past two domestic seasons. He scored over 1200 runs in the U-19 and U-22 for Himachal Pradesh that also included seven centuries. He impressed the national junior team selectors with his fine form in 2011.