THE future of Indian Test cricket is in good hands if players like Balaji Rao make the step from youth level into the senior grade.
The Tamil Nadu youngster showed maturity beyond his years as he steered the visiting Indian Under-19s to a two-wicket win over the Hong Kong President's XI at the Hong Kong Cricket Club yesterday.
Tipped as a future prospect for India, Rao took two wickets, but more importantly, held his side's innings together with the bat as they chased a target of 202.
The right-arm leg spinner, who bats left-handed, scored 17 vital runs. Coming in to bat with his side reeling at 163 for seven, Rao brought stability back.
He first figured in a 21-run partnership with Mohammed Saif, and when Saif was run out - beaten by a direct hit from the President's XI captain Stewart Brew - Rao and Rahul Sanghvi hung on to score the remaining 17 runs required for victory.
The visitors need not have relied on their tailenders to fashion out a win. At one stage opener Arun Kumar and captain Amit Sharma were scoring so freely that it looked as if the game would be over by the 40th over.
Kumar and Sharma put on 78 runs off just 73 deliveries as India raced to 106 for one in the 20th over.
But David Clifton-James, who had been hoisted for two sixes in his first over by Sharma, struck twice to remove both batsmen in his next over to put a brake on the runs.
If there was any weakness at all in this Indian side, it was probably their penchant to bat as if there was no tomorrow. Caution is hardly a part of the vocabulary of young cricketers in the flush of life.
And Hong Kong exploited this superbly as they piled on the pressure through their off spinners Yarman Vachha and Jawaid Iqbal. Vachha, being more adventurous and giving the ball more air, accounted for the next two wickets to fall as India tumbled to 136 for five.
The seams became further undone with two run outs. But Rao walked in to lift his side to victory.
Openers Brew and Tim Smart got the home team off to a good start with an 84-run partnership in 19 overs. But the President's XI failed to build on that solid foundation.