Graham Napier has advised England’s Under-19 squad to thrive off the international exposure ahead of the 11th edition of the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup in Bangladesh.
Napier, who recently announced his plans to retire from all forms of cricket at the end of the 2016 campaign, was a member of the England team which won the 1998 edition in South Africa.
And as the 36-year-old reflects back on an eventful career, highlighted by a world-record 16 sixes in a Twenty20 match against Sussex Sharks in 2008, he spoke of the importance of the competition and how it shaped his career.
“The Under-19s cricket set-up was the perfect opportunity to put yourself against other international players and where they might be at,” he told ecb.co.uk.
“But also to be in and around a group of players, all of the same age, all pushing to do well, you end up pushing each other in your career paths.”
England head to Bangladesh in good form after beating holders South Africa by 125 runs at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, and when asked about what advice he would give to the current crop of youngsters, the Essex all-rounder offered an encouraging response.
He said: “Enjoy it, the relationships you make now will last for your whole careers.
“It’s a serious competition but at the same time relax and enjoy and lap up every moment of where you are and what you’re doing.”
Current India captain Virat Kohli said the U19 Cricket World Cup was a very good learning experience.
Kohli, who led India to victory in the 2008 tournament, went on to win the Cricket World Cup on home soil in 2011 and the Champions Trophy in 2013, and spoke on how the competition helped him grow as a cricketer.
“It was competitive,” he said. “A lot of players I played against in 2008 are now playing for their respective nations. You get quality players and you get an opportunity to show the world what you have.”
Former South Africa captain Hashim Amla, who played in the 2002 event in New Zealand and scored 191 runs in seven innings, highlighted current Proteas fast bowler Kagiso Rabada as a perfect example for what the competition can do for young cricketers.
Rabada was a member of South African team that claimed their first U19 Cricket World Cup title in 2014. The 20-year-old recently went on to claim his first Test five-wicket haul during the third Test against England.
Amla said: “I don’t think we have a better success story from the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup like we do in the form of Kagiso Rabada.
“He was one of the highlights from the competition in 2014 and today he continues to lead the way with performances for the Proteas.”