Was 2008-09 the Cricket Youths' Year Out?

Chandra Jayaramakrishnan@@chandra_251086Correspondent IJanuary 14, 2009

The idea of writing about the rise of young cricketers was there in my mind for quite some time, but I couldn't quite put my pen on paper. After witnessing the two T20Is between Australia and South Africa, I decided to shift gears.

If you are thinking Warner's innings acted as the catalyst here, you are wrong. It was a series of key performances by youngsters over the past year that set me on course. Let me begin chronologically.

After a forgettable, controversial test between Australia and India at Sydney, the stage was set at Perth, a wicket in which the Aussies reigned their supremacy with menacing fast bowlers. Ponting decided to play four fast bowlers (Lee, Clarke, Tait, and Johnson), hoping that the pace and the bounce they generate would out-do the Indians. Little did he know that the spell would backfire.

Nineteen year old Ishant Sharma, slim as a girl and strong as a boy, as described by Mark Nicholas back then, carved a niche for himself by tormenting the Australian captain with a spell that lasted ten overs. Ponting witnessed a form of torture only a man, probably as strong as he was, could have withstood.

What caught the world's eye was the relentlessness. Ishant gave it all he had, and Ponting had absolutely no answers. For once, Ponting would have surely wished he was in another planet.

The scorecard would tell that Ishant Sharma picked up one wicket in the first innings (that of Ponting), but statistics do not tell the whole story. What every cricket lover witnessed at Perth was something special: the birth of a new Indian star.

The same series saw a gruelling battle between the two sides in the shorter format of the game. The first ODI at Sydney saw another youngster making a name for himself. Rohit Sharmashowed the Aussies how tough and determined he could be when he played second fiddle to the legendary master himself.

Tendulkar's unbeaten 117 was well supported by Rohit's patient 66, and the duo made the run chase of 240 look relatively simple. This was also Tendulkar's first ODI century on Australian soil, and Rohit played an immensely important role in making sure that the little master reached this landmark.

Moving to the other side of the world now, while West Indies engaged Sri Lanka in a well-fought series in the Caribbean, relief spread through a legend named Muttiah Muralidharan. While many a game Sri Lanka had won till then had depended solely on the performance of Murali, he'd had no support in the other end, excepting Chaminda Vaas.

This tour saw the emergence of another young spinner, who was classified "slow-medium." He could bowl the off break, the googly, the flipper, the leg break, the straight one, with different grips and different actions, at different trajectories and different pace. Ajantha Mendis bowled everything and perplexed batsmen.

More was seen of him in the IPL with Kolkata Knight riders, but he made his mark in the test series against India. His brilliant performance outshone that of even Murali's and he proved that he was worth his weight in gold by following it up with a match-winning performance against the Indians in the Asia cup final. He took six wickets for a miserly 13 runs, and was declared player of the tournament.

The West Indies are never the force they once were. The retirement of Brian Lara certainly did not help them in their efforts to regain their lost glory. With a lot of internal politics (I don't wish to elucidate on them here), they needed a batsman of promising calibre to step on to the international stage and deliver. With the Aussies touring them during the summer of 2008, the stage set for the prospective candidates was at its highest.

The answer came in the form of 22 year old Xavier Marshall. Even though Jamaica refused to play him (politics again), he showed a glimpse of his talent with two well hit fifties against the Aussies. He whacked the cricket ball with Caribbean flourish and played with a sense of joy that world had missed from West Indian batsmen.

The race to the top spot in the ICC rankings down under saw three wonderful test matches between the Aussies and the Proteas. Makhaya Ntini can be credited for breaking Ashwell Prince's finger on the eve of the first test match at Perth. This opened the door for young Jean Paul Duminy.

His composed 50 in the second innings of the Perth test, playing second fiddle to the brilliant AB De Villiers, ensured that the Proteas chased down a mammoth 414 to take an early lead in the series. His brilliant 166 in the boxing day test was well supported by the lower order and tail in order to overcome the possibility of a follow on when they were seven wickets down with 190 odd on board.

For someone so young and so inexperienced, Duminy exceeded expectations and affirmed his status as a rising star in international cricket.

Another notable performance in a country not too far away from Australia was the performance of 22 year old debutant Martin Guptill. Jesse Ryder's prolonged misadventures with alcohol enabled Guptill to open the batting for the Black Caps.

After surviving three early chances, he batted like a dream to score a century, 122 runs to be precise, and carried his bat through the innings. His stroke play was magnificent, and his performance meant more pressure on Jamie How to perform in the domestic stage to earn a possibility of a recall.  

The two T20Is between Australia and South Africa saw uncapped (even at state level) youngster David Warren blast into the international arena with a monstrous 89 of 43 balls at Melbourne. The first two balls bowled by Dale Steyn to him were dispatched over the boundaries. It was one of the most destructive pieces of batsmanship witnessed in this form of the game after Chris Gayle and Yuvraj Singh's assault in the T20 world cup few years back.

Duminy's two half centuries in either game went in vain, but he certainly showed the world that he could adapt to any form of the game and come out in flying colours. What a find he has been!