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Talent spotting at under-19 level in cricket is an essential part of the game’s ecosystem. The opportunity to do so was afforded recently by the U-19 men’s ODI World Cup, which concluded on Feb. 11 in Benoni, South Africa. Australia convincingly beat India by 79 runs to cap a remarkable run of success for all of Australia’s national teams over the last 12 months. At U-19 level, India had been champions in five of the 15 editions of the tournament and were favorites in 2024.

This makes Australia’s achievement even more impressive, ending a 14-year trophy drought in the competition.

Australia’s captain, Hugh Weibgen, has joined the ranks of three previous Australian U-19 World Cup-winning leaders: Geoff Parker (1988), Cameron White (2002) and Mitchell Marsh (2010).

Parker did not go on to play for the Australian senior side, playing only 37 first-class games, his focus being split between cricket and football and seeming to prefer the latter.

White’s star looked to be shining brightly in 2002, but he found difficulty in fashioning a consistent career at senior international level. He represented Australia in four Tests, 91 ODIs and 47 T20Is, captaining seven matches. In 2020, White retired from playing to focus on coaching.

Mitchell Marsh has gone on to have a celebrated senior career, so far playing in 40 Tests, 89 ODIs and 52 T20Is. Currently he is captain of Australia’s T20I team and is set to be so in the 2024 ICC World Cup. Since 2021, he has been free of injury and has enjoyed a resurgence as an international cricketer, featuring in Australia’s victories in the 2021 T20 and 2023 ODI World Cups. His elder brother, Shaun, played in the U-19 World Cups in both 2000 and 2002, going on to play for Australia at senior level on over 100 occasions.

These are two examples of players who have represented their country at U-19 level and progressed to distinguished senior representation. There is no shortage of others who first came to prominence at an U-19 World Cup. In the first-ever edition, Michael Atherton was England’s captain. Later, he captained the senior side on 54 occasions. The same World Cup featured Nasser Hussain, Inzaman-ul-Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Sanath Jayasuriya and Brian Lara.

In the 2000 U-19 World Cup, Yuvraj Singh was player of the tournament, scoring 203 runs and taking five wickets. Forward to the 2011 seniors’ World Cup, which India won for the second time, Yuvraj Singh was the player of the tournament, scoring 362 runs and taking 15 wickets.

England’s U-19 team of 2010, captained by Azeem Rafiq, contained Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and James Vince, all of whom have become household names, despite being knocked out in the quarter-finals.

Australia’s winning team of 2024 may well contain players who will go on to senior representation. Weibgen’s leadership has been lauded for not only scoring 304 runs, including a century against England, but also for his intelligent on-field decisions.

Harry Dixon also impressed with 309 runs at the top of the order and is one to watch. However, it was Australia’s quartet of fast bowlers which inflicted the greatest psychological damage on the Indian team. They deliberately targeted India’s batters with short-pitched deliveries on a fast pitch, much in the manner of previous generations of Australian fast bowlers. It should be no surprise that one of them, Mahli Beardman, has received advice from Dennis Lillee, one of Australia’s greatest fast bowlers.

Australia had reached the final by narrowly defeating Pakistan by only one wicket, with five deliveries remaining, in a low scoring semi-final. Fifteen-year-old Ali Raza captured four Australian wickets. One of Australia’s fast-bowling quartet, Tom Straker, claimed six wickets for 24 runs in Pakistan’s score of 179.

India had reached the final by defeating South Africa by two wickets with seven deliveries remaining. South Africa scored 244 for seven and then had India in all sorts of trouble at 32 for four, courtesy of Tristan Luus and Kwena Maphaka.

A 171-run partnership between India’s captain Uday Saharan (81) and Sachin Dhas (96) took them to the brink of victory. The return of Maphaka, who claimed two further wickets, stopped the charge but, despite the run-out of Saharan, India edged home.

In looking to the future, Maphaka should be in full view. He was named as player of the tournament for his haul of 21 wickets. In addition to Dhas and Saharan, the tournament’s top run scorer with 396, India have promise in all-rounder Musheer Khan and Saumy Pandey, who was the only spinner to feature in the top five wicket takers. 

Given India’s wealth and depth of talent, it may take time for these players to earn a senior call-up. Pakistan’s fast bowler Ubaid Shah, brother of Naseem Shah, is one in a line of talent in the country, taking 18 wickets, second highest in the tournament.

South Africa has batting talent in the shape of Steve Stolk, who created U-19 World Cup history by scoring its fastest 50, in 13 balls, against Scotland. The previous record had been set by Rishabh Pant in 18 deliveries. 

A notable effort outside of the semi-finals, to emphasize that talent is widespread, came from Jewel Andrew of the West Indies. Against South Africa he came to the wicket at 52 for four, chasing 286. Andrew not only rescued the innings but took his side to within 35 runs of victory in scoring 130 from 96 deliveries.

Clearly, there is abundant talent, which is becoming more widespread, as witnessed by Nepal qualifying for the Super Six this year.

The progression of players from U-19 to senior level has been evident since 1988. This year, the event was switched to South Africa at short notice and was played in the shadow of SA20. Future editions need fuller exposure so that those who invest in cricket, either as observers, selectors or administrators, can witness talent as it emerges.

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