Pakistan fast bowler Umar Gul has credited the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup for rescuing his career after he was on the brink of walking away from cricket.
Umar, who is now Pakistan's frontline bowler with 158 wickets apiece from 45 Tests and 111 ODIs, played in the ICC U19 CWC 2002 in New Zealand and took 11 wickets at 12.72 runs per wicket in Pakistan's unsuccessful campaign where the green shirts failed to progress to the knock-out stage of the Super League.
"I was on the verge of walking away from cricket after a poor 2000-2001domestic U19 tournament following which I was not selected in the Pakistan Academies team. But then I gave myself one last chance, worked hard by attending the Academy side's training sessions as a net bowler until I was picked in the fast bowlers' camp which was supervised by Daryl Foster.
"Lady Luck finally smiled on me when I was selected in the Pakistan squad for the ICC U19 CWC 2002 and though the event turned out to be a poor one for the side, personally I benefitted as I regained my form, picked up some key wickets and when changes were made in the Pakistan side following a disastrous ICC Cricket World Cup 2003, I was able to find my way in the side.
"I owe it big time to the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup 2002. If that opportunity had not been provided to me at that time, I would have left cricket and reverted my attention and focus to academics," said Umar.
Umar recalled his feelings when he was picked in the ICC U19 CWC 2002 side. "I just couldn't believe when I was told I had been selected for the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup. The ICC U19 CWC is the pinnacle for any teenager. There can be no prouder moment than to get a call and be told that you are required by your country."
While discussing the advantages and benefits of the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup, Umar gave the example of Azhar Ali who played in New Zealand 10 years ago as a bowler but is now the mainstay of Pakistan's middle-order.
"Azhar was a very keen batsman even then but the ICC U19 CWC actually provided him that platform and opportunity where he evaluated and reworked on his strengths and is now one of the stars of international cricket.
"The ICC U19 CWC provides you a launching pad and also gives you an opportunity to test yourself against the best players from all over the world in that age group. The ICC U19 CWC is something between the U19 domestic tournament and international cricket, and gives you a very good idea which level of cricket you belong to and what you need to do to survive or excel at the highest level.
"My humble suggestion to players appearing in Queensland is to play as hard as possible but also enjoy the moment of representing your country at a global stage. The players must always remember that they are representing their people and country so there is a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. This means, they need to play fair and uphold the Spirit of Cricket all the time," he concluded.
Zimbabwe's Brendan Taylor also played in the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup 2002 in New Zealand and smashed a 100 not out against Nepal in the Plate Championship final which his side won by 137 runs. Today, Taylor is the man at the helms of affairs in the Zimbabwe cricket team and is one of the most respected captains in the world.
Talking about the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup, Taylor said: "Any player that gets to U19 level has obviously got his mind set on representing his country at the highest level.
"It is a fantastic event that the ICC puts in place to help groom younger players and finds talent all around the world. It certainly played a huge part in my career. You see the quality in U19 cricket and a year or two later they are in the national set up which makes it a great concept."
Taylor said he will be following the performance of the Zimbabwe U19 side. "I'm not sure if the event will be televised in Zimbabwe but I can assure you that I will be following it closely on websites.
"Zimbabwe Cricket has made a good effort in developing the youth and getting them through the levels. It will make my job a lot easier in the future if we can get players coming through the system which will then allow them to represent the country at the highest level.
"My advice to the players will be to play hard. Know that you have done the hard work and enjoy yourselves because it is a great tournament," Taylor concluded.