Under-19 tournaments and series have always been seen as platforms for young players to showcase their talent and make a statement for being considered at the national level. Among all the youth competitions, the Under-19 World Cup remains the most anticipated platform for the young guns of all cricketing nations.
The stage is once again set, this time in South Africa, for youngsters of all 16 participating nations to prove that they have what it takes to get to the next level as the hosts will kick off the 2020 ICC Under-19 World Cup by taking on Afghanistan in Kimberley today.
High hopes have been pinned on the Bangladesh U19s as even skipper Akbar Ali did not rule out the possibility of playing in the final while speaking to media before leaving for South Africa last month.
However, for Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) selector Habibul Bashar, the primary expectation from the young Tigers is not to win the tournament. The former national skipper was of the opinion that while winning matches would be the cherry on top, the emergence of potential prospects would matter the most at this level.
“We are getting a lot of players from the Under-19 side. Players like Anamul Haque, Soumya [Sarkar] have all come to the national side from this level. So, I hope that we will get some players from here for the future. Look, I think to be the champions or not at this level is not very important. If we can be champions, it would be great. But if we can’t, then I would be more than happy if we can get four-five good future players, just as we have been getting players in the past,” Bashar told The Daily Star yesterday.
Bashar was right when he said that the Tigers got some of the more promising players in the recent past from the Under-19 level. It was under the leadership of Mehedi Hasan Miraz, who has now established himself as a regular face in the national team, that the Bangladesh U19s achieved their best ever result in the tournament by finishing third in the 2016 edition at home. Players like Afif Hossain, Mohammad Naim -- who debuted for Bangladesh in T20Is in November 2019 -- are now igniting the stage in the ongoing Bangabandhu Bangladesh Premier League.
The showpiece youth event being treated as a proving ground is not exclusive to Bangladesh. Pakistan’s 16-year-old pace sensation Naseem Shah, who made his Test debut in Australia in November last year, was taken out of the U19 squad as he had already established himself by taking a fifer against Sri Lanka the following month, so that a new face can stake a claim.
The other side of the coin for Bangladesh is that a number of players have also faded away after impressing at age level.
“This is not the case with Bangladesh only. If you look at international teams that have Under-19 sides, you will see that 50 per cent of the players who once played at age level are not even playing cricket now.
“The path is there for the players. But not everyone can make it through this path. Only the ones who can adapt, survive. The system is fine, the players from under-19 emerge and they play in High Performance (HP). So, the system here and in almost every country is fine,” said Bashar.
It however remains to be seen, how many of the 15 members of the current Bangladesh Under-19 squad can actually walk the path that has already been paved by the board and travelled by the likes of like Mehedi, Afif and even Mushfiqur Rahim, who once captained the U19s. Because, just as Bashar mentioned, winning the trophy is secondary at this level.