Coach Pradeep Kochar rewinds to a Vijay Merchant match played in Delhi four years ago to highlight what those who have followed the Indian U19 team’s progress to the final of the World Cup now know — captain Yash Dhull has nerves of steel.
At the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium, Dhull, then only 15, batted a little over a day for his unbeaten 183 to draw the game against Punjab. Delhi were down to their last two wickets at stumps but Dhull had shepherded the innings. The result helped Delhi qualify for the knock-outs.
Kochar of the Airliner Cricket Academy goes back to another innings, which would define Dhull. “He was 14. He batted for 90 overs and made 78. This was an Under-19 tournament in Amritsar. He wasn’t intimidated facing bowlers much older than him. The calmness and maturity he showed when scoring a century against Australia after India lost two early wickets is what I have expected from him. Not from today but right from the beginning,” Kochar said.
Dhull’s 204 partnership with Shaik Rasheed, the vice-captain, was the cornerstone of the innings as the team were 37 for 2. Both batsmen gauged the conditions well, were mindful of early movement and only shifted gears when they had consolidated. Kochar says pacing an innings is another of Dhull’s strengths.
Dhull moved from 90 to 98 with two back-to-back fours. A six, on the delivery after he got to a century, was hit from down the track, pivoting on one leg.
In a post-match interview, Dhull said he enjoyed launching the unorthodox six into the stands.
“Both Dhull and Rasheed played mature innings. Dhull hit his first boundary only after getting his eye in. Between 70 and 100 he was aggressive. Those 30 runs, I got the feeling like he was having fun, like he does during the last session at the nets in training. That six was fun to watch. He is capable of playing the T20 game and knows how to play risk-free,” Kochar said.
Lessons from family
His family in West Delhi’s Janakpuri watched on television as Dhull captained the junior Indian team to its fourth-straight final. Dhull’s father Vijay, a vice-president at a cosmetics company, says Dhull made a name for himself by delivering in crucial games in age-group cricket. However, the family ensured he is always grounded and is not obsessed with runs. They never wanted to be pushy parents.
“We never told him to score a century or a double hundred. We never put pressure on him like ‘you need to score a hundred in this game’ We told him that playing cricket is not about one good season but it is a long journey. He understood the importance of being patient,” Vijay said.
1⃣1⃣0⃣ Off 1⃣1⃣0⃣ With 1⃣0⃣ Fours & 1⃣ Six! 🔥 🔥
— BCCI (@BCCI) February 2, 2022
Being a former league cricketer who played well into his 30s, Vijay had his share of setbacks. He passed on valuable advice: for every success story on the cricket circuit, there were a hundred stories of those who fell by the wayside.
“I knew he would develop the cricketing skills but he required the right mindset. I have taught him how important it is to have the right attitude. He has picked up the right lessons. When he performs on the field he is not over-excited. In a difficult situation, he knows he should not give up,” Vijay adds.
Dhull had other early mentors too within the family. Dhull’s grandfather Jagat Singh, an armyman, was his guide and drove him to matches. Before Jagat passed away a few years ago, he had instilled in Dhull discipline and dedication.
Comeback after Covid
Dhull’s century on Wednesday was special not only because it was against Australia in a knock-out game but also because he was one of the players who tested positive for Covid in the middle of the World Cup.
“He had mild symptoms. We used to talk to him over video calls in the morning and evening. He had said he would be fine in about five days. It was good to see him back on the field and score a century and captain India to the final,” the father said.
Coach Kochar believes the reins of the team are in the right hands for Saturday’s final against England Under-19. There were early signs of Dhull being comfortable in a leadership role, he said. Dhull’s mother, on seeing him shadow practice, decided to enroll him at Kochar’s academy nearly a decade ago. Kochar spotted something more than raw talent.
“During fielding drills, Dhull would motivate others kids too. If someone dropped a catch, he would have a word of encouragement for them. On his own, he would instruct other kids. I knew he had the ability to lead a team even back then.
He is a natural leader because he thinks of how to get the best out of other players and puts the team first,” Kochar said.
The coach expects another special from Dhull in the final, not just as a batsman but as a captain too.