January 15, 2022 9:46:58 am
It’s hard not to be nostalgic about the Under-19 World Cup. I remember our batch played continuous cricket throughout the year before the World Cup. We had series in South Africa, Sri Lanka and India. So preparation-wise, we were prepared mentally. We had gained some experience before the World Cup. It was a proud moment for me when I was handed the task to lead the team. It was a big platform and we tried hard to bring back the crown, but couldn’t.
India under-19 players get similar attention and fame like the senior cricketers, especially as the World Cup gets closer. It’s the first time we all face such a situation where everyone recognises us, everyone talks about us. There are messages coming from all over, the phone doesn’t stop ringing. It’s the biggest challenge for an 18-year-old kid, who is trying to find a route to reach the top level.
Sadly, a player doesn’t get such fame when playing for their state teams. And the problem starts when a player unknowingly expects such fame permanently, which is never going to be the case. I feel those who can face that situation calmly and keep their head down, will find success ahead.
After the under-19 level, the cricketers get to the senior state level where they have to match the performance of players who are more mature than them. First-class cricket is another big challenge.
Luckily, my family doesn’t understand much about cricket, and my father only told me to grab the opportunity. I remember when it was announced that I will captain the India under-19 team, I was in Bengaluru but back home, we had visitors, media and well-wishers coming to greet our family. There were journalists coming on a daily basis to interview my family; it’s something none of us had ever experienced. Suddenly, the whole world wanted to know what I eat, what I like and what I dislike. In Bengaluru, there were hundreds of calls and unread messages on the phone.
I was lucky to have played Ranji Trophy before, so my aim was clear from Day One. I have to represent the senior Indian team one day. Around the time of the Under-19 World Cup, there was also an IPL auction to be held but it never hit my mind because my thought process was clear.
Once I returned, it was a similar kind of buzz. The phone kept ringing, well-wishers came calling. During all this, players have to keep their priorities right. For instance, even when I was picked as captain of the under-19 team, I didn’t change my schedule – my gym session, nets session, rest and sleep early. Only in my free time, did I take the phone in my hand. The day a player compromises on this routine, I feel the distraction starts. Upar jaane ka percentage kam ho jaata hai, (the chances of making progress go down), following the process is very important. Sleeping on time and getting up early is the key.
Like me, these current players will also make temporary friends, social media will attract them, agents will run behind them, duniya bhi aapke peeche bhagegi (the world will run behind you). My only advice to this under-19 team is to think about the long term and make the best decision from that perspective. Under-19 is the age which needs maturity, but we are very immature. So, take help from your family.
Don’t lose focus, follow the process, never compromise on your ethics. Be prepared to hear taali (applause) and gaali (brickbats), we live in a country which has billions of people. So don’t expect that everyone is your well-wisher. Now with the IPL auction coming up, everyone will want to be part of the glamorous league. It has fame, money, everything. Once you play for your country, these things will come automatically. Decide an off-day where you want to do things outside cricket. In my case, Sunday is my off-day, people will call you, be it at a function or ribbon cutting of their store, decide what is best. If you think that going there will harm you, don’t go. Players can judge that. Under-19 could be a short-cut to playing for India but remember only work ethic, performance and hard work will help you remain at the top. So keep working hard, even if you don’t find success in this World Cup.
(Priyam Garg was the India captain at the 2020 Under-19 World Cup. He spoke to Devendra Pandey)
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