'Pujara and Kohli have the hunger for success'
Former India stumper Nayan Mongia tells Haresh Pandya that many players from the Under-19 World Cup-winning team have the potential to make it to India's senior squad.
Nayan Mongia is one of India's more experienced cricketers, having played 44 Tests and 140 One-day Internationals, before becoming a cruel victim of dirty politics that is rampant in Indian cricket since time immemorial. He is known for expressing his views frankly and boldly.
The former stumper and batsman talks to Haresh Pandya about India's young brigade, the team's chances in the upcoming ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka and selection of Yuvraj Singh.
How do you view India's victory in the Under-19 World Cup in Australia in the light of the recent retirement of some of the country's top cricketers?
It's a great triumph by any count. More than the victory, it's the manner in which it was achieved, which is really very heartening. We must give full credit to each and every member of the Under-19 team, including the supporting staff. It was a classic example of what you call a sustained collective effort. If groomed properly, many of these young stars have the potential to take the places of those senior players who graced Team India until recently. So, it's a significant achievement even from this point of view as well.
Could you name a couple of players from the World Cup-winning side who you feel may represent Team India in near future?
Why only a couple of players? I think many of them have what it takes to play for your country at the highest level, where competitions are tougher, responsibilities greater and challenges bigger. People keep talking about Unmukt Chand and Harmeet Singh. No doubt they're bright prospects, but others like Baba Aparajith, Smit Patel, Prashant Chopra and Sandeep Sharma are also equally good. I think these young players will form the nucleus of India's future in the coming years.
The boys have done precisely what they were expected to do in Australia and returned as World champions. What do you think is the BCCI's duty or responsibility now?
It's very simple. These players have to be carefully nurtured. The BCCI should continue to encourage these budding players and provide them the best of facilities to hone their talents, so they can blossom like complete flowers. The BCCI can also tell its affiliated associations to take care of these young talents, wherever they hail from. They've to be further groomed in domestic first-class cricket.
It's a long, continual process and finally the fruits will definitely be there. Both Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, to name only two from a long list, are the products of our junior cricket. Like these rising stars, Pujara and Kohli were also members of our Under-19 World Cup-winning team in the past.
Image: Nayan Mongia
Photographs: Hamish Blair/ALLSPORT/Getty Images
'I like Pujara's compact technique and cool mind'
Talking about Pujara and Kohli, how do you rate them?
Obviously, they both are very, very talented. They're quite different, contrasting players, but have one thing in common -- hunger for success. You can see that in the way they play, whether they're representing India or even their state teams.
Kohli has already gained enough experience of playing international cricket and his success in all the three formats confirm that he is here to stay. Unfortunately, for Pujara, he has missed a lot of international cricket because of injuries. But he has bounced back now and looks determined to make up for the opportunities missed.
What is that something special about Pujara and Kohli which impresses you more?
As I told you, they both are hungry for success. I like Pujara's compact technique and cool mind and steely resolve, something you associated with Rahul Dravid. As for Kohli, his whole approach is thoroughly professional and this is what you've got to admire. Whatever the status of the match, whatever the situation, Kohli always bats positively. Both Pujara and Kohli are so sure of themselves and their abilities that they never hesitate to play their shots if they feel like playing them in any situation. They're young and full of enthusiasm and I think their presence in Team India must be veryinfectious. It's a good sign, isn't it?
Do you feel Pujara and Kohli will eventually fill the void left by Dravid and VVS Laxman?
Nobody can replace great players like Dravid and Laxman or fill the chasm left by them. The question isn't of replacing them or filling the void their retirements have created. It is how you bat in their place, how you contribute to building a strong Indian team again, which is crucial.
Let alone replacing, you can't even compare Dravid and Laxman with others. And both Pujara and Kohli will be the firsts to accept this. But, yes, they are world-class players and they've proved that they can shoulder the responsibility of India's middle-order in their own way.
With Sachin Tendulkar still around, Pujara and Kohli and other youngsters can always learn a thing or two from him in the art of middle-order batting in Test cricket.
Image: India's Cheteshwar Pujara
Photographs: REUTERS/Vivek Prakash
'It's too early to say whether Kohli will eventually get to lead the country'
The BCCI seems to have singled out Kohli as the future captain of Team India. Do you also feel that he has the makings of a good captain?
Yes, of course. You can see how intelligent, how mature he is. He gives the impression of possessing a good cricketing brain. But it's too early to say whether Kohli will eventually get to lead the country. And, if yes, how good or successful he will be also remains to be seen.
Right now, though, Mahendra Singh Dhoni is doing a good job in all the three formats of international cricket. So let Kohli focus on his batting only.
The best thing is he is a brilliant player who has earned his place in Team India on the strength of his merit and success. And a captain has first to be able to deserve a place in the team.
This way, too, Kohli has a big plus in his favour. But there is no doubt that, as far as batting is concerned, Pujara and Kohli are the two players from India's young generation who are worth watching in the next few years.
Do you think batting is still India's strength despite the middle-order getting a bit weaker with the exit of Sourav Ganguly, Dravid and Laxman?
Yes, it still is. Even if Ganguly, Dravid and Laxman are no longer around, we still have some highly experienced batsmen, including Tendulkar. And there is also depth in our batting line-up which extends till No. 8 or even No. 9. Our bowling line-up isn't that experienced; nor so consistently effective. But you never know!
Ultimately, it boils down to the given match and the prevalent situation.
Image: Virat Kohli
Photographs: Scott Barbour / Getty Images
'I won't be surprised if win the World Twenty20 again'
How do you rate India's chances in the coming fourth ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka?
Very bright, very bright! Not only are we one of the best teams in the world in all the three formats; we've also had enough experience of the wickets and conditions in Sri Lanka. We recently won a One-day series in Sri Lanka.
Our players are doing well in the ongoing series against New Zealand. So, obviously, their confidence has to be very high. And we do have some superb players for Twenty20 cricket. I, for one, won't be surprised if win the World Twenty20 again.
What are your objective views on Yuvraj Singh's selection in India's team for this particular event?
I think the selectors want to give him a chance, given his past record in Twenty20 cricket, to prove his fitness and ability to play at the international level after returning from his ailment.
And Yuvraj has been very keen. He has been practising very hard and taking even practice games very seriously. He has still a lot of time to prove himself, his fitness and get acclimatised to the hot and humid Sri Lankan conditions.
But don't you think that more than the reason, it is the emotion which has worked in Yuvraj's selection?
Well, probably, yes. But I'm sure he will prove his ability and justify the selectors' confidence.
Image: Yuvraj Singh