First-class cricket still the best despite faults

New Delhi, Jan. 23 -- Twenty-sixth August 2012 was a momentous day for Indian cricket -- our Under-19 team had lifted the World Cup in Australia beating the hosts in the final. In one stroke these youngsters became household names and some of the most respectable voices in world cricket thought that a few of our boys were ready to don the national colours.

With the league phase of this season's Ranji Trophy having concluded, this might be a good time to see how these stars of the U-19 World Cup fared amidst the seniors. This may not only elaborate the relevance of U-19 cricket but also reaffirm Ranji Trophy's place in Indian cricket. There have been occasions when players have been made to jump the queue and represent the India team straight from the U-19 level. While some managed to find their way to the top, others just faded into oblivion.

Chand shows promise

Captain Unmukt Chand, marked as the most promising cricketer of the lot and touted as the immediate replacement for Gambhir and Sehwag, has scored a little over 400 runs at 37 in eight matches. Someone like Jeewanjot Singh from Punjab, who plays half of his Ranji matches on a green-top at Mohali has scored nearly 800 in as many matches.

No aberration

Unmukt isn't an aberration, for most players from the winning squad (barring Sandeep Sharma from Punjab) have either struggled to hold their own for their respective teams or haven't even managed to break into the playing XI this Ranji season.

Baba Aparajith, Prashant Chopra, Smit Patel and Akshdeep Nath average 39, 31, 36 and 18 respectively. Then there're a few others who didn't even play a single game.

While it's important to give youngsters a go, it's equally prudent to hold your horses while making outrageous predictions about their immediate future. First-class cricket in India, however average its standard may be, remains the best breeding ground for upcoming talent, for the difference between U-19 cricket and Ranji Trophy is still huge.

The writer is a former India opener

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.

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