India Win Inaugural U-19 Afro-Asia Cup

Vizagapatnam, November 27: India beat Sri Lanka by eight wickets at the ACA-VDCA stadium to claim the first U-19 Afro-Asia Cup competition. India were unbeaten throughout the six-nation tournament.

During the eight-day event, India beat all opposition, Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe by large margins with players such as opener Gaurav Dhiman, first-drop Cheteswar Pujara, leg-spinning all-rounder Piyush Chawla being prominent throughout. Gaurav Dhiman was the tournament’s top-scorer with three hundreds and a fifty. All of the above are future stars in the making, with Chawla perhaps being closest to a call-up to the senior side.

India’s coach, ex-international Venkatesh Prasad, said: ‘‘We have set extremely high standards for ourselves in the preparation for the World Cup. And we are sticking to them in terms of performance. Sure, it’s huge pressure sometimes for setting such high standards. But that’s the way for us to go.’’

Adroitly captained by Ravikant Shukla, no slouch with the bat and ball himself, India sent out a message to all opponents prior to the U-19 World Cup in February that they are the team to beat. “We have already beaten Australia 4-1 in a series this year and are full of confidence. Our coach has said that we just need to focus on our strengths and not worry about anybody else and we will do fine,” said Shukla.

Gaurav Dhiman bowling
Piyush Chawla

India won the last U-19 World Cup held in Sri Lanka, in 2000 under the captaincy of Mohammed Kaif in a side which included Yuvraj Singh.

Overall, assessed as an exercise in the development of youth cricket, the tournament was an unqualified success.

South African Coach Ray Jennings said his boys would learn a lot from their Indian trip. ''They have not toured outside South Africa much. This is going to be a new and rich experience for them.” Pakistan coach Mansoor Rana said he had brought in a relatively new team and was trying out some new talent. ''This is a sort of preparation tour for us. We are trying to build the best team to defend our World Cup title in Sri Lanka next year'', he explained.

Zimbabwe beat Australia by six-wickets in the 2004 U-19 World Cup and though they were unable to make as strong an impact on this tournament, Jimmy Chikange, the National Schools communication manager of Zimbabwe said that "the Afro-Asia Cup is ushering in an exciting moment for the local juniors and hence the competition for jerseys in the side has been stiff. Zimbabwe is well respected the world over for its ability to nurture and groom talent from a very early stage. With players assured of more cricket at the highest level - a development that is likely to see further improvement of playing standards at schools level, things can only get better for Zimbabwe."

All the teams featured players who are highly likely to go on to make an impact in senior cricket. Bangladesh’s U-19 side already includes two full-internationals, Mehrab Hossain and Mushfiqur Rahim but Mehdi Hasan and Showdhi Shuvo cannot be too far behind. There were a number of players who showed immense promise (Karunaratne and Pathiratne of Sri Lanka, Mufambisi and Williams of Zimbabwe, Asad and Faheem of Pakistan, Daniel and van der Schyff of South Africa) and the Afro-Asia Cup certainly advanced the cricketing prospects of all who took part.

The Afro-Asia A Team event is scheduled for Bangladesh in January 2006 and will feature an even higher standard of cricket.

“Vizagapatnam hosted a super tournament. Everyone benefited from the exercise. You have only to think of the amount of learning the players would have missed out on had the tournament not taken place. The African youths have an experience of Indian conditions now, and the Asian players likewise will learn how to cope in Africa when we repeat the tournament there next year. All these tournaments strengthen the root and branch of the senior set-up and in years to come once some of these players, coaches and administrators across Africa and Asia go on to other events they will have been thankful for this experience,” said Syed Ashraful Huq, the ACC Chief Executive. “We are responsible for the future of tens of thousands of young cricketers and everyone of these matches is helpful to the cause of development. The more of them there are the more they will inspire and encourage young cricketers to perform at their best.”

Filed November 28 2005