They contest cricket’s biggest prizes on the field, but members of the ICC ODI Team of the Year are agreed on one thing – the role of the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup in their development.
Virat Kohli, Ben Stokes, Joe Root, Rashid Khan, Mustafizur Rahman and Ross Taylor all honed their craft in the tournament and now walk the field of ODI cricket as kings.
After an era-defining ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup in 2019, and ahead of this month’s renewal of the U19 Cricket World Cup in South Africa, top stars say the competition made them the players they are today.
Nearly 12 years on from captaining India to victory at the U19 Cricket World Cup, Kohli is the top-ranked ODI batsman in the world with 43 centuries to his name in the format.
Kohli steered a side featuring Ravindra Jadeja and Manish Pandey to overall victory in Malaysia, leading by example and making a superb hundred in the group stage against West Indies.
Less predictably, then-19-year-old Kohli gave his medium pace a successful airing, snaffling a vital two for 27 including the wicket of captain Kane Williamson in the semi-final win over New Zealand.
True to form, Kohli relished testing himself against the best young players in the world.
“The ICC U19 World Cup was a very important milestone in my career,” said Kohli, who made 235 runs at an average of 47 in 2008.
“It helped us get a good platform to build on and make our careers from thereon, so it holds a very important place in my mind and heart. It is very important to understand and respect the opportunity it provides to you.
“I remember playing against Kane (Williamson). He was someone who always stood out in the team, his batting ability was very different from the other players who were around.
“It is good to know that so many people from that batch, like Kane and Steve Smith, have played for their respective countries.”
Stokes’ ability to shape games and tournaments in England’s favour shone through at the 2010 U19 Cricket World Cup, where he appeared alongside fellow Men’s Cricket World Cup winners Joe Root and Jos Buttler.
Just as he pulled England back from the brink to win last summer’s Cricket World Cup, Stokes strode to the crease at 60 for four in the final group game of 2010 against India and took matters into his own hands.
The all-rounder peeled off 100 from 88 balls, including six sixes, to lift England to a total of 246 that they successfully defended and gave them a flawless group stage record in New Zealand.
It’s an innings that still sticks in the memory of Root, who feels the tournament played a crucial role in the development of a world-beating generation of English one-day cricketers.
“We didn’t get off to the best start in that India game but Ben played one of the best innings I’d ever seen for a player of that age,” said Root.
“It was on the first world stage you can play on – he made a brilliant hundred and we ended up winning the game against the tournament favourites, which was fantastic and great to be a part of.
“It was a launchpad for me and I played in a squad with a guys who are still in the team now, like Ben and James Vince.
“To play alongside players like that, learn from them and watch them develop, to then go back and play against them in county cricket, meant we were always pushing each other to get better.”
Four years on and the modern bowling phenomenon that is Rahman was unleashed by Bangladesh on ICC tournament play for the first time in the UAE.
The left-arm quick, nicknamed ‘Fizz’, put in place the building blocks of his reputation with three for 24 against Namibia and then three for 11 against Canada as Bangladesh won the Plate Championship.
Mustafizur credits the U19 World Cup with helping him make a record-breaking start to international cricket, becoming the tenth bowler in the history of ODIs to take five wickets on debut, against India.
“It wasn’t the best event in terms of results,” reflects Mustafizur. “But it was a stage to show my skills and the tournament really helps you to get accustomed to international cricket.
“When I made my T20I debut the next year against Pakistan, and then ODIs against India, I was ready to accept the challenge of playing against world-class teams and the U19 World Cup helped me a lot in understanding what was expected at that level.
“This tournament gives aspiring cricketers a taste of things to come and those who go on to make it to international cricket find it easier to adapt to the demands if they have the experience of an U19 World Cup behind them.”
Ross Taylor, the first Kiwi to reach 20 ODI centuries, first served notice of his talent back in 2002 in a U19 Cricket World Cup on home soil.
The tournament was graced by future stars in Dwayne Bravo, Hashim Amla, Shaun Marsh and George Bailey and won by an Australia side spearheaded by Cameron White and Xavier Doherty.
For Taylor, who skippered New Zealand, the tournament did nothing short of confirm cricket was the life for him.
“Whenever you represent your country and at whatever level it is, it’s always a special thing and even more to do so in your own country in front of family and friends,” said Taylor.
“I was fortunate and humbled to captain the side against all of the best young players in the world.
“It was nice to give you that hunger and drive to want to play at the next level.
“To go to a tournament like that at such a young age – I was 17 – meant I think it reinforced that this is what I wanted to do in life.”
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