The Under-19 platform has provided the game with players who go on to rule world cricket. That applies to every single country and can be seen in names like Michael Atherton, Graeme Smith, Virat Kohli, Hashim Amla and many more, who have not just represented their senior national teams but also led them. And the tournament that presents such talent to the world is the ICC U-19 World Cup.
India, too, has been blessed with such players, who used the U-19 World Cup as a platform to showcase their talent and make it count. Besides Kohli, names like Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel quickly sprout up in mind.
The eleventh edition of the ICC U-19 World Cup began on Wednesday, and three-time champions India will begin their campaign for an unprecedented fourth title against Ireland on Thursday.
The 19-day event, to be held in Bangladesh from January 27 to February 14, 2016, will throw open a rare opportunity for the players of 16 competing teams. Among them, will be two Indian youngsters from Madhya Pradesh – allrounder Rahul Batham and fast bowler Avesh Khan.
Under the tutelage of former India player Amay Khurasia, the two young turks have honed their skills at the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Academy (MPCA). While it will be the second appearance at the tournament for Khan, Batham will make his debut in the marquee U-19 event.
Also under the watchful eyes of selectors will be allrounder Sarfaraz Khan, batsman Armaan Jaffer and skipper Ishan Kishan, who is a wicketkeeper batsman in the MS Dhoni mould.
The dreams of these aspirants of an India cap show up in Batham’s words.
“I follow in the footsteps of [Jacques] Kallis. I want to be like him. Even Amay sir says to me that I am an allrounder and I should follow Kallis,” said the 17-year old who bats right-handed and bowls seam-up stuff.
He was just six when his father, Rajendra Batham, took him to the Ankur Cricket Academy, but his association with MPCA and Khurasiya began a few years later.
“Rahul came as a 14-year-old and Avesh was 13 [when they joined MPCA]. They were selected through a normal process. We had trials. They impressed with their performances,” Khurasia, who has played 12 ODIs, told Cricketnext.
“I was 6 years old, when my father got me admitted in the Ankur cricket academy,” Batham recalled. “I trained there for 5-6 years. After that, Amay sir paid a visit to our academy and took trials. I was the only one from Bhopal who was selected by him. He asked me to come to MPCA. It was a proud moment for me,” the youngster said.
“I follow Kallis because he is exceptional with both bat and bowl. He has played many match-winning knocks and took his team [South Africa] to victory on many occasions. I love to see him bat and bowl and want to be like him,” Batham shared his aspirations.
India’s bowling attack will be led by the six-feet-two-inch Avesh, who relies on his raw pace to rattle the batsmen, with a sharp off-cutter as his most lethal weapon.
And Khurasia has high hopes attached with Avesh as well.
“They both are amazing talents. Both are very much hard working. I have seen both spending a lot of time at nets. Their hard work has taken them at this level. I am sure both will make their experience count,” Khurasia said.
“Avesh is a genuine fast bowler, a very dedicated and sincere boy. His abilities of producing speed while bowling is amazing. He can bowl away from the batsman and bring in sharp too. He has got the potential to bowl with a batsman’s mind,” Khurasia said.
Unlike Batham, Avesh has no idol and want so leave a mark of his own.
“I have many favourites but no idol. I want to be like myself. I will make my own identity,” he said while talking to Cricketnext before his second World Cup appearance.
“This is my second World Cup. I have prepared hard for it. I was satisfied with my performance in the last edition of the tournament. I am ready and just want to go and perform. My aim is to win the World Cup for India,” said the 19-year-old who hails from Indore.
What has helped Avesh sharpen his skills is his recent first-class experienced as he was picked by Madhya Pradesh to represent the team at the premier tournament in India’s domestic calendar.
In five Ranji matches for his state side, the right-arm pacer has picked up 15 wickets with a best of 4 for 84.
“Ranji Trophy has really helped me a lot. I have got wickets too. Getting into the groove ahead of a big tournament like the World Cup is a big positive for me,” he told. “I get an advantage with my height. It helps me in getting extra bounce, which also helps me in intimidating the batsman.”
Avesh made a more newsy splash at the U-19 tri-nation tournament at home, where his 4 for 4 in Kolkata bundled out Bangladesh for just 76. Under the mentorship of U-19 India coach Rahul Dravid, he will only get better.
And so will Batham, who wants his and his parents’ hard work to count.
“I have really worked hard to reach this level. I don’t want to my hard work to go in vain. I have got a lot of support from my coach Amay sir and family. There is only one aim now for me – go and win the trophy for my country,” the allrounder said.
“My father never said no to anything. He was in a private job but helped me in fulfilling my dream. He wanted to see me as a good cricketer and represent the country some day. From equipment to practice jersey to shoes, he made everything available before I asked for it,” Batham said with a sense of gratitude..
Khurasia’s advice here will help Batham focus on what he needs to do.
“An allrounder is one who scores runs and takes wickets at the same time. And, this has to be consistent. This shouldn’t be once-in-a-while phenomenon,” the MPCA coach said. “Rahul is a good talent, he has the ability to become a good allrounder, but he has to go a long way.”
India are placed alongside Ireland, Nepal and New Zealand in Group D; and expected to reach the quarters alongside the Kiwi team.