Pacers Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi impressed in World Cup © Getty Images
Pacers Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi impressed in World Cup © Getty Images

Alan Wilkins was first-hand witness to India’s ruthless professionalism in the recently-concluded ICC Under-19 World Cup 2018 in New Zealand. India beat Australia convincingly in the final to be crowned champions for a record fourth time.

‘Wilko’, a prodigious former left-arm seamer and a famous voice in sports, heaped praises on the Rahul Dravid-coached Indian Under-19 side and went on to dismiss the notions surrounding the harms of them earning lucrative IPL contracts.

On a chilly first day of the Hong Kong T20 Blitz at Mong Kok, Suvajit Mustafi caught up with the former Glamorgan, Gloucestershire and Northern Transvaal cricketer.

CricketCountry (CC): You were there in New Zealand. What do you make of the Indian Under-19 side?

Alan Wilkins (AW): It was head and shoulders the best team there. Manjot Kalra, Shubman Gill, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi and of course Ishan Porel was there. Weren’t they exceptional? Well captained by Prithvi Shaw, good discipline. Rahul Dravid has to be credited for instilling a sense of responsibility in all of those players. By far distance, they were the best side in the tournament. They absolutely dominated the final. (That was) fair enough, Australia were the second-best side.

CC: What was the difference?

AA: When you look at the New Zealand side, not a single player had First-Class experience. No one. A couple of South African guys had First-Class experience. In contrast, Prithvi Shaw has 5 First-Class hundreds. The likes of Porel [Bengal] and Gill [Punjab] have contributed well for their domestic sides. It reflects well on BCCI for blooding young players in domestic competitions.

The New Zealand guys have to play at higher levels. They have to play now. That was the big difference. Most of the Indian Under-19 cricketers were so well prepared — mentally as well as skill-wise.

CC: From spin-dominated India to pacer’s paradise, have seen a paradigm shift. Even the senior side dropped Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the Centurion Test, presumably because he was not as quick. The teenagers clock 90-95 mph. What is your take as a former pacer?

AA: Isn’t it fantastic? Isn’t it a wonderful position to be in? The cupboard of Indian fast bowlers is so full. I remember the era when Javagal Srinath bore the brunt of Indian fast bowling and then came Venkatesh Prasad. You just had one or two quality pacers and then the support pacers like Sourav Ganguly chipping in and doing his bit. Compare it to now. Gosh, you have got four to five outstanding fast bowler and then these (U-19 boys) coming through.

I think the next five to ten years India are well blessed with their quicks. I really do. However, I would like to see another left-arm pacer coming because Zaheer Khan is finished, as is Ashish Nehra. Any exciting prospect coming through?

CC: Yes, there are a few. Jaydev Unadkat (he fetched a whopping INR 11.5 crore in the IPL 2018 Auction), Aniket Choudhary and few are work in progress. There is a divided opinion on the earnings of young cricketers. T20 cricket is filling up pockets too soon, some would say. A few Under-19 stars have bagged multi-crore deals in the IPL, which can apparently sway them away from the ultimate objective — a national cap.

AW: For any young cricketer, he will have playing for country at the top of his mind. There is nothing wrong with the fact that they are earning good money. It is what the market does. This is how the game is shaping. I don’t think it will distract them. They will always want to wear the Indian colours. They are too young to get their attention swayed away by big IPL contracts. I don’t see a problem with that.

CC: What about the Hong Kong T20 Blitz? Is this your first trip to this event?

AW: I have played here (in Hong Kong). This is my first trip for cricket broadcast. I have covered rugby here before, but yes, this is my first T20 Blitz.

CC: What do you make of it?

AW: Good game. A lot depends on the pitch and this was a good wicket. It has a bit of grass covering and pace. The ground is of decent size. It looks good to the eye and over the week let us expect some good cricket. There is enough quality in all the teams and it’s a high quality representation.