CHENNAI: This is unusual territory for an India Under-19 team. Of late, they have entered the World Cups as the most well-prepared team with their planning lasting a couple of years.
Regular camps at the National Cricket Academy, exposure tours and series against top teams to go with domestic tournaments mean by the time they enter a World Cup, they have resembled a well-oiled machine.
This time it is totally different. The onset of the pandemic soon after the Yashasvi Jaiswal-led team lost to Bangladesh in the final in South Africa in 2020 meant the current batch has had just over three months for preparation.
Two domestic tournaments in Vinoo Mankad Trophy, Challenger Trophy, and two international outings in the triangular series and the Asia Cup are all the U19 team had for practice before they landed in the Caribbean. And the rustiness showed in their opening match against South Africa in Providence, which they won by 45 runs despite a batting collapse.
“They are still a work in progress. But this side knows how to fight,” said S Sharath, the chairman of the junior selection committee.
“We had very little time before the World Cup and in that context, the boys have been responding well to our preparations. We always knew it will be challenging, but at the same time, all of us including (Rahul) Dravid, (VVS) Laxman put a plan in place. And credit to the BCCI, especially secretary Jay Shah and president Sourav Ganguly for catering to our need,” he said.
With travel restrictions affecting their touring plans, the BCCI even arranged a 10-day camp in December in Bengaluru, where the team received centre-wicket practice. Broken down into net sessions, planning and fitness, the entire camp was overseen by Laxman, who is the head of cricket at the NCA.
While the World Cup in the Caribbean is being played in a relaxed bubble, the players had to live in a hard bubble during their series in India as the BCCI was cautious with their safety.
“We didn't want to take any chances and in the current circumstances you have to see if a player can manage the bubble life and even Dravid and Laxman wanted to choose the players with the right attitude. And we had to give as many opportunities to everyone before naming the squad. So in that sense, the Challenger Trophy with six teams allowed us to widen the pool," Sharath said.
"From there, we picked two teams for the triangular series and from there we finalised the World Cup squad. And we have picked the squad only on the basis of their white-ball performances. The message from the BCCI has been to concentrate on the process – which is to ensure these players develop into good first-class cricketers. World Cup is just another step.”
Although India A lost to Bangladesh A in the final of the tri-series, the team bounced back by winning the Asia Cup in the last week of December. According to Sharath, the selectors and the NCA were also cautious in increasing their workload as they hadn't played any cricket for nearly 18 months.
“We told them to be guarded and take it one step at a time. You have to gradually pick up the pace. They know there is still a lot to do and we are really impressed by their awareness. Even when they won the Asia Cup, there were no over-the-top celebrations. They are on the right track because winning Asia Cup isn't easy because Pakistan, Bangladesh have a good team and it was a good confidence booster,” Sharath said.
The Yash Dhull captained side next face Ireland on Wednesday.