Tough road ahead for SA's under-19 cricketers

Ask anyone in India who Virat Kohli is and they will surely tell you he’s the captain of their under-19 cricket team. Try that with Wayne Parnell and you’re likely to get a few puzzled responses on the streets of South Africa.

Yet both led their teams with equal aplomb to reach the final of the recent International Cricket Council Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia, and both performed admirably in a personal capacity, probably with an equal chance of making the step up to the senior ranks one day.

Yet, while Kohli returned home to much fanfare and the lure of lucrative Indian Premier League contracts, it was a different story for his South African counterpart. Nevertheless, Parnell is one of the players South African under-19 coach Ray Jennings says will be one to watch in the future.

“Both Wayne Parnell and [KwaZulu-Natal all-rounder] Jonathan Vandiar really performed incredibly well at this tournament.
I would like to see them drafted into the national squad in the next two years and given that exposure because they really stood out above the others,” said Jennings.

Apart from the pressure of the captaincy, Parnell shouldered the responsibility of opening the bowling (and finished as the tournament’s highest wicket-taker with 18 scalps from six matches), as well as making a valuable contribution with the bat further down the order.

Now the questions is: Will he follow in the footsteps of a certain young Graeme Smith who progressed from being top run-scorer in the 2000 edition of the Under-19 World Cup to being named as the captain of the senior side?

Parnell and his teammates would do well to heed comments made by prolific Indian batsman Rahul Dravid at the party to welcome home his country’s under-19 team in Bangalore this week.

According to he cautioned the team, saying: “We can believe that the future of Indian cricket is bright, and I hope that you’ll be part of a World Cup win someday. That should really be your goal and inspiration.

“I just want you to remember that of the boys who won the Under-19 World Cup in 2000, only one member [Yuvraj Singh] was part of the [CB Series] winning team in Brisbane. It’s something for you to think about. I played for the under-19s in 1991 and was the only one in my team to go on and play for India. This is the start of a critical phase in your lives. What you do from here on is what matters.”

That’s where Jennings remains concerned about the future of his team, which surprised so many with their success in Malaysia.

“There are not enough opportunities in the franchises for these young guys. At this age all the Indian players are playing first-class cricket, but our guys have maybe only played once or twice, so in the interim they have to rely on amateur cricket and that is not strong enough to take their talent forward,” he said.

“We need to create more opportunities for these young guys so they don’t miss the boat. You never know when the next Kevin Pietersen will come along. I think our results over the past three weeks have shown that we have the talent in our country, but we haven’t invested enough in it. The national under-19 squad needs to be on the agenda of Cricket South Africa and this needs to be an annual or bi-annual process.

“I think the impact of that over the next five years could make a huge difference at senior national level and we could be in the top two or three in the world at all stages,” said Jennings.

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