Important to enjoy cricket: Ex-stalwarts
Current international stars Quinton de Kock of South Africa, Shikhar Dhawan of India and Tamim Iqbal of Bangladesh have all urged those participating in the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup UAE 2014 (ICC U19 CWC) to enjoy their time in the middle and express themselves with freedom.
Some of the best young cricketers from 16 nations will take part in the tournament, which will be staged in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from 14 February to 1 March.
And they would do well to heed the advice of de Kock, Dhawan and Tamim, who used this platform to further their development as cricketers and go on to achieve laurels at the highest level.
De Kock topped the batting averages for South Africa in the last edition of the ICC U19 CWC in Australia in 2012. He scored 284 runs from six matches at an average of 47.33, posting one century and two half-centuries.
Significantly, de Kock also effected 18 dismissals as a wicketkeeper, which included 16 catches and two stumpings. That feat put him in joint fourth place in the list of wicketkeepers with most dismissals at a single edition of the ICC U19 CWC.
Looking back at his time in Australia in 2012, de Kock said: "I remember being really excited and honoured at being selected for the South Africa U19 squad to take part in the tournament. Going to the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup was the major career highlight that all the cricketers my age were striving for.
"It was a great event. It was my first taste of what international cricket could be like. The tournament was well organised and there was a lot of media interest, which was new to me. It's the perfect stepping stone for young cricketers, and competing against International opposition gives you a good gauge as to where your cricket-skills are", he added.
De Kock has built on his exploits at the ICC U19 CWC to cross some major landmarks in One-Day International (ODI) cricket as well. In December 2013, he became only the fifth batsman to score three consecutive ODI centuries. His tally of 342 runs at an average of 114 against India in their three-match series that month is also the most any batsman has ever scored in a bilateral ODI series.
Explaining how playing the ICC U19 CWC prepared him for the challenges at the senior level, de Kock said: 'As an aspiring young cricketer you never really play under the hectic pressures of International cricket. I think this event is important because it gives you a taste of what is to come in international cricket. You get the full package, including lots of media attention, the honour and pride of playing for your country and the pressure to win. I couldn't ask for a better platform."
Stressing the need to enjoy oneself at the ICC U19 CWC, de Kock gave the following advice to those playing in the 10th edition in the UAE: "As much as every young cricketer wants to go there and do well, it's also important to enjoy yourself. This is the top stage for U19 cricket, and the memories your make at the tournament will last for a long time. It's important to take in as much information from your coaches, peers and other opponents as you can, and to keep looking for opportunities to improve your game."
He signed off by saying: "Having toured the UAE recently, I felt that adapting and adjusting to the sub-continent like conditions played an important part in achieving success. I think the most important approach will be patience. Good luck to everyone competing - go out there and make your country proud."
Like de Kock, Shikhar Dhawan was also a prolific run-scorer in the ICC U19 CWC. At the 2004 edition in Bangladesh, Dhawan created a new record for the most runs scored by a batsman in a single edition. His tally was 505 from seven matches at an average of 84.16, with a highest of 155 not out and with three centuries and one half-century.
Dhawan has translated his success at U19 level into that at the elite level as well. In March 2013, he scored the fastest century by any batsman on Test debut, reaching the landmark off just 85 balls against Australia in Mohali.
Attributing some of that success to the lessons he learned playing the ICC U19 CWC, Dhawan said: "The ICC U19 Cricket World Cup helped me because I played against some of the best young players from different countries. So performing over there gave me a lot of confidence, and I also got that self-belief - that I could do well in international cricket or in First Class cricket too."
When asked what the key to succeeding at U19 level is, Dhawan said: "Youngsters, first of all, should enjoy their game - of course it is a very big tournament, and everybody wants to win the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup for their country, but it is important to enjoy your game and give your hundred percent. Doing that will take you to another level, and you will reach your peak."
Dhawan, who is currently ranked 10th in the Reliance ICC Player Rankings for ODI Batsmen, also had the following suggestions to offer to those players that will play in the UAE next month: "Work hard and do really well in practise, because whatever you do there, you'll take into your matches. Also, you make your character from practise. So if you practise right, you will achieve lots of success and happiness there. I wish everyone lots of luck for the tournament!"
Tamim Iqbal, who like Dhawan is an attacking left-handed opening batsman, turned out for Bangladesh in the 2006 edition in Sri Lanka. He scored 66 runs from five matches there, at an average of 13.20.
Reflecting on his time in that edition, Tamim said: "The team we had boasted arguably the best generation of Bangladeshi cricketers. Mushie (Mushfiqur Rahim) and Shakib (Al Hasan) were in it. Eight players from that team have since represented the national side.
"The confidence within the team was infectious. We had prepared really well and there was massive faith in our abilities. We strongly felt we were the best U19 team in the world at that time, and I could actually see that respect for us in other teams also. I can recall that the participating Full Member teams were pretty evenly matched and there were some top talents in action, the likes of whom would go on to bigger things", he added.
Revealing what the instructions were for him in that tournament and how they helped shape his game, Tamim said: "I was told to dominate and play aggressively in the first 15 overs. That was a ploy to upset the plans of the opposition and to get the team off to a quick start.
"The tournament matches actually gave me a clearer idea about the importance of planning an innings, as a lot depended on equations and situations. The intensity, too, was at a different level in the event, and it had plenty of similarities to the major ICC competitions. When I played the ICC Cricket World Cup in the following year (2007), it became easier for me to adapt, as I had played in the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup."
Like de Kock and Shikhar, Tamim too emphasised the importance of enjoying oneself at the ICC U19 CWC, saying: "It is very important to enjoy yourself, because this is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There is every likelihood that you are not going to play another ICC U19 Cricket World Cup.
"This is also the closest experience you can get at that age to playing in the main ICC Cricket World Cup. So prepare the best you can to showcase your skills on that stage. Play without inhibition, and express yourself with freedom. Also interact and get to know players of other teams if there is scope."
(Posted on 29-01-2014)