The ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup gets underway on the 19th of January, 2024, in South Africa. Originally slated to be held in Sri Lanka, things took an ugly turn for the Emerald Isle, as they faced suspension due to illegal interference by their elected government, thus prompting the International Cricket Council to hand over the hosting rights to Cricket South Africa. Sixteen teams will be participating in the 15th edition of the U-19 World Cup, divided into groups of 4 teams each.

Defending and five-time champions India will begin their campaign on the 20th of January, Saturday, when they lock horns against Bangladesh. The other two teams in the group, the United States and Ireland, India, are touted to qualify for the Super Six stage easily. Like always, the Indian team is a strong contender to emerge victorious. However, they will face stiff competition from Australia, who have clinched the U-19 title thrice and appear to be a force to reckon with.

Here is the 15-member Indian squad for this edition of the U-19 Cricket World Cup

Uday Saharan (PCA), Arshin Kulkarni (MCA), Adarsh Singh (UPCA), Rudra Mayur Patel (GCA), Sachin Dhas (MCA), Priyanshu Moliya (BCA), Musheer Khan (MCA), Aravelly Avanish Rao (HCA), Saumy Kumar Pandey (MPCA), Murugan Abhishek (HCA), Innesh Mahajan (HPCA), Dhanush Gowda (KSCA), Aradhya Shukla (PCA), Raj Limbani (BCA), Naman Tiwari (UPCA).

Led by the promising Uday Saharan, India has named a balanced squad for the World Cup. The team comprises 7 specialist batters, 6 specialist bowlers, and a couple of all-rounders. Following are a few players to watch out for from the squad.

1. Arshin Kulkarni 

The search for a bankable pace-bowling all-rounder might end for Team India shortly, with the emergence of a potential star in the making. Arshin grabbed eyeballs at the inaugural Maharashtra Premier League (MPL), where he smashed the most sixes in the tournament despite playing in only 3 matches. His all-round prowess came to the fore in the ACC U-19 Asia Cup, where he accumulated 138 runs with the bat and registered 4 wickets with the ball. An opening batter and a medium fast bowler, Arshin idolises a certain Jacques Kallis, arguably the most excellent all-rounder to have graced the field of cricket in the modern era. At his tender age, Arshin has earned an IPL contract with the Lucknow Super Giants and will be gearing up to prove his mettle in the forthcoming season. 

2. Uday Saharan 

The designated skipper of the U-19 squad for this World Cup, Uday is a middle-order batter hailing from the cricketing background of Punjab. In the U-19 Asia Cup held recently in the Gulf nation UAE, Uday scored a gritty half-century against arch-rival Pakistan under challenging circumstances, and his leadership stood out. Over the years, the India U-19 cricket team captain has had a history of graduating with flying colours and making amends at the senior level. A prime example is Virat Kohli, who led India to the U-19 triumph back in 2008 and has left an unassailable legacy. One hopes Uday will follow a similar trajectory and make India proud by lifting the U-19 World Cup.

3. Aravelly Avanish Rao 

Having already made his List A debut, Avanish is expected to be India’s first-choice wicket-keeper batter in the World Cup. The swashbuckling left-hander had stolen the limelight in the U-19 Quadrangular series by scoring a ‘daddy hundred’ when his team was in dire straits. In the domestic U-19 tournament, Avanish amassed 274 runs in just 6 innings, striking a mammoth 148. His adamant approach to batting enables him to pack a punch in the latter half of an innings, and India would look to accelerate the scoring rate riding on his stroke play. The Chennai Super Kings picked Avanish in the IPL auction, which allowed him a golden opportunity to hone his skills under the surveillance of MS Dhoni.

4.  Dhanush Gowda 

The leading wicket-taker in the U-19 Challengers Trophy, Dhanush, picked up 9 wickets at a disciplined economy of 4.42 runs per over. The right-arm medium-fast bowler also made heads turn in the Quadrangular series, as he bagged a five-for versus Bangladesh in Vijayawada. He is believed to possess various skills in his armoury and come to the World Cup; one would expect him to produce the goods with the new ball by striking early on in the innings.

5. Saumy Kumar Pandey 

A six-wicket haul versus the Afghanistan U-19 in the recently concluded tri-nation series in South Africa has propelled left-arm orthodox Saumy to lead India’s spin department at the U-19 World Cup. Before this, he had a terrific outing in the Quadrangular series at home, scalping 13 wickets at an average of 23.15 and becoming the most successful bowler. Being the vice-captain of this U-19 side, India will pin their hopes on Saumy to wreak havoc with his guile in the middle overs when the game meanders on at a lazy pace.

The Head Coach of the U-19 setup, former India international Hrishikesh Kanitkar, is optimistic about his team’s chances in the World Cup. The India U-19 squad has had optimum exposure in the lead-up to this tournament, which should allow them to gel well as a unit. The onus now lies on these young guns to use every ounce of their commitment in the field, as they represent their nation at a global sporting stage.