India’s youth team defeated England to win the Men’s Under-19 Cricket World Cup on Saturday, overcoming a Covid outbreak that briefly depleted its ranks and holding its nerves in a tightly fought final contest.
The team’s undefeated run in the tournament, which India has won a record five times, spoke to the vast pool of talent as India consolidates its place as a powerhouse in the sport. Increasingly in recent years, players from such youth tournaments have risen to become stars of India’s national team and find lucrative contracts in the Indian Premier League, fast growing into one of the richest sports leagues in the world.
The 2022 version of the Under-19 World Cup, contested among 16 teams, was played across several Caribbean islands, home to some of the most iconic players who dominated the game in the 1970s and 1980s.
India’s team had to bounce back from a wave of coronavirus cases early in the tournament. Six players, including the captain, Yash Dhull, and his deputy, Shaik Rasheed, tested positive and had to isolate for nine days as the rest of the team struggled to field a squad. India had to fly in five reserve players just in case.
The team faced a tough challenge in the final against England, which had also been undefeated in the tournament. India’s batters at times struggled in chasing the target set by England, but the target was modest and the team held its nerves, with fans back at home in India watching into the early hours of Sunday morning.
“We had to manage our focus,” Mr. Dhull, the captain, said about returning from isolation to lead his team to an undefeated run.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India, the sports managing body, announced about $50,000 in reward money for each player and about $30,000 for members of the support staff. The board’s president, Sourav Ganguly, said the team had “showed grit, determination and courage to bounce back strongly despite the Covid-19 cases in the camp.”
“Their stellar performance at the highest level shows that the future of Indian cricket is in safe and able hands,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in praise of the team.
If recording their names along some of the biggest modern-day stars who began their journey in the youth tournaments was not enough, the players also had another incentive to display the best of their ability: Recruiters for the latest edition of India’s lucrative cricket league were watching.
The Indian Premier League, a tournament hosted by India every year around a shorter version of the game where each match lasts about three hours, is valued at over $6 billion. The league, which recently added two new franchises for a combined price of about $1.7 billion, attracts the top players from around the world with handsome salaries; the highest paid player last year earned more than $2 million for a season of matches that lasted roughly seven weeks.
The league, which has recruited players as young as 16 and 17, holds its auction of players for the coming season next weekend, with the tournament scheduled to take place in the spring.