Indian roots to England cricket's new hope

London, Dec. 21: For cricket fans, this shouldn't be too difficult a question ' what do Mohammad Kaif, Virat Kohli, Unmukt Chand and Shiv Thakor have in common?

The answer is they have all been or are U-19 cricket captains.

Kaif and Kohli have captained India U-19 in 2000 and 2008 respectively while Chand is the current skipper ' all have led India to World Cup glory.

These days, to be appointed the U-19 captain is a great honour which also places huge responsibility on young shoulders.

On Wednesday, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced that "Leicestershire batsman Shiv Thakor has been appointed tour captain of a 15-strong England Under-19 squad for their forthcoming tour of South Africa."

"The team will play two four-day Tests and five one-day internationals versus their South Africa counterparts early next year," the ECB added.

At Uppingham, a famous English public school in Rutland, which counts the BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew "Aggers" among its alumni, the news is already up on its website.

Until the end of the summer term, Shiv was captain of the school first eleven.

From the headmaster, Richard Harman, there were warm words for the boy who has brought distinction to Uppingham: "It is excellent news that Shiv has been appointed captain of the England U-19 squad. We wish him, and the team, every success in South Africa and will follow closely news from the tour."

"We are all very proud of what Shiv has achieved in his cricketing career so far," the headmaster added.

"I asked him what he wanted to be," recalled Paul Westgate, Uppingham's director of sport. "He is certainly the best cricketer we have had for a long time."

Shiv's ambitions are simple: "My aims are to captain England, be the best player in the world and win the World Cup."

His appointment indicates that English society is changing and a number of cricketers of Indian origin, of whom Shiv is clearly one of the more promising, are coming through the system. Monty Panesar, Samit Patel and Ravi Bopara are among those leading the way but many think Shiv could be the one to watch.

With Indian cricket in a state of crisis, it is instructive to listen to Shiv, who came up to Uppingham at the age of 13 and learnt his cricket in lush English conditions. But he has been to India often enough under the training programmes that the ECB runs to be able to compare and contrast the way cricket is played in the two countries.

Uppingham, now a co-educational boarding school, dates back to 1584. On Tuesdays and on Saturdays, matches are arranged against top public schools such as Shrewsbury, Repton, Oundle and Rugby.

Rather like the Nawab of Pataudi, who joined Sussex County while still at Winchester, Shiv began playing for Leicestershire while studying for his A levels in economics, philosophy and physical education. He is now hoping to combine cricket with university.

Shivsinh Jaysinh Thakor was born on October 22, 1993, in Evington in Leicestershire, of parents, Jay and Daxa, who came from Gujarat, though his father's family had originated in Rajasthan. Shiv calls himself "a local lad".

His career highlights include 237 for Loughborough Grammar School in the Under-13 National Cup semi-final several years ago, and an unbeaten 219 against Nottingham High School for Uppingham. Last year, on his debut for Leicestershire County Cricket Club at 17, he scored 134.

Listening to Shiv one begins to understand that Indian cricket has certain strengths and weaknesses. There is a greater willingness in India to blood cricketers at a young age but in England, those who are gifted, are being sent all over the world so that they can learn to play in different conditions.

Shiv recognises he is basically an English batsman more used to coping with the swinging but going repeatedly to India has also nurtured his Indian instincts in the way he plays spin.

First of all, "playing first class cricket for Leicestershire has been great ' the changing room has been great in helping me and supporting me".

"I love India," he said. "In India there is a huge background of cricket, a huge history and they are not afraid to throw in their talent at a young age. Here it is more of a process of gaining experience, that knowledge, learning your game very well and then finally that big step up whereas in India they are very happy to throw talent straight into international cricket and then seeing how they do."

He explained his thinking to The Telegraph: "It is common knowledge that the love for the game in India is at a different level, really ' it runs in the blood and there are a billion people who love the game. Definitely there is a passion for the game I don't think there is anywhere else in the world."

As for his own batting technique, "initially being taught by my father playing in an Indian club here I was very wristy. I have always hit very straight and very hard but in England you learn to play against the swing on green pitches."

It is perhaps this that Indians in India are failing to master.

Shiv admires what he has seen in India. "Going across to India you see young people there play with absolute freedom ' it's great to see. They play spin with great ease and very naturally. So there are certain similarities (I have with batsmen in India) but the majority of my game would revolve around playing against a swinging ball which is very important over here in England."

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