Australia v New Zealand U19 Series
Young guns represent new Aussie wave
Australian U19 reps Tanveer Sangha and Yuvraj Sharma are the bold new faces of a growing trend of multicultural cricket participants
11 July 2019, 11:18 AM AEST
Yuvraj Sharma was born on the outskirts of Haryana in India, and is fluent in Hindi. The 17-year-old was named after Yuvraj Singh, one of his favourite cricketers, and hopes to one day make similar waves in the cricket world.
But the next time India come up against Australia, Yuvraj will be siding with the team he once considered a fierce rival.
"Australia, for sure," he tells cricket.com.au with a grin. "Back when I was younger it was towards India a bit more because my whole family was going for India, but as I've gotten older, I've played all my cricket here, so I go for Australia now."
Yuvraj's story is becoming increasingly familiar. The promising young batsman is one of two players of Indian background – along with leg-spinner Tanveer Sangha – in Australia's Under-19s squad currently taking on New Zealand in a five-match one-day series in Brisbane. He is also one of 293,000 Australians identified as 'multicultural participants*' in a recent Cricket Australia census, a figure which represents a 9.2 per cent yearly increase. And both Yuvraj and Sangha are from western Sydney – an area that encompasses the four highest regions of multicultural cricket participants (based on %) in the country.
The pair were born ten thousand kilometres but only a few months apart, and as well as national underage teammates, they are also Premier Cricket rivals; Yuvraj plays for Fairfield-Liverpool, while Sangha, who was born in Sydney, is with Campbelltown-Camden.
Cricket Australia's executive general manager of community cricket, Kieran McMillan, says the upturn in multicultural participants has been the result of both a general and a specific approach.
"A lot of that 9.2 per cent increase is on the back of promoting the game to more kids than ever before," McMillan says. "There's 110,000 more kids in our CA school programs than in the previous year, so that's a huge increase, and we're actually targeting a lot more multicultural areas to promote cricket into those communities."
Yuvraj came to Australia with his parents and his younger sister when he was seven, and after spending two years in Adelaide, the family relocated to the Blacktown area, where they have been for the past decade.
The increase of multicultural cricket participants comes as no surprise to either him nor Sangha; both are part of a generation that knows diversity as the norm. While racial issues continue to be played out in Australian politics and society, the teenage pair insist they have been unaffected.
"Not at all," Yuvraj says when asked if he has faced racism on or off the field. "It's fine now. It's normal for us – at my school there's a lot of ethnicities and they're embraced really well.
"Even at my club, there's a lot of ethnicities and it's the same thing – everyone gets along."
Despite Yuvraj's positivity, McMillan believes the challenge of ensuring all cricket clubs around the country are finding ways to appeal to a diverse demographic remains a significant one.
"We've still got a lot of work to do," he says. "We need to support cricket clubs to be inclusive places that reflect their local communities, so it's about what resources and training we can provide, share best practice from clubs that do this really well, how we can help with decision making and policy development by the committees of those clubs.
"Then also, how are we identifying and supporting champions in those diverse communities who can be real advocates for the game, and build the bridge between their communities and the local clubs?"
Support in this regard has come from KFC Big Bash club initiatives targeting multicultural communities. Sydney Thunder, who have Gurinder Sandhu and Arjun Nair (both have Indian heritage) and Pakistan-born Usman Khawaja on their books, have led the way via the Thunder Nation Cup – a T20 'country of origin' tournament aimed at the western Sydney community – while the Renegades, Stars, Scorchers and Strikers all have similar competitions.
"These modified short-format leagues help open the doors to these communities," McMillan says. "They make them feel like they're part of the family."
Yuvraj, who was still to turn 17 when he scored his maiden first grade hundred in March, says that in addition to an expanding subcontinental population in Australia (the census also revealed that eight per cent of all participants aged 5-8 were of subcontinental heritage, up from seven per cent yearly), the increase in participants could perhaps also be put down to some shifts in traditional ways of thinking.
"Subcontinent parents are getting more broad-minded," he says. "Before it was 'study, study, study' – you had to do well at school. But now I think they're a bit more flexible – they're pushing their kids into sport as well.
"In India, there's also been a lot more emphasis put on sports recently, and I think that's influencing Indians all around the world."
Whatever the reasons behind it, India's loss is clearly Australia's gain. Both players are beyond-their-years talents and are the leading lights in a new wave of multicultural participants in the sport.
They have each spent time at the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane previously, working with former Test batsman Chris Rogers and spin coach Craig Howard among a host of other elite-level mentors.
For Sangha, the New Zealand series is another taste of action with the national side after touring Sri Lanka with the U19s as a 16-year-old last year, while for Yuvraj, the experience is a first in green and gold.
Both players have their sights set on the same things as the formative stages of their careers unfold: performing well in first grade, gaining selection in the Australia U19s squad for next year's World Cup, and earning professional contracts.
In the meantime, they have their Higher School Certificate to complete, with parents and trusted advisors stressing the importance of life balance as a fundamental survival tool in the world of professional sport that awaits them.
"You can't just being focused on cricket 24/7," Sangha says. "Otherwise you'll get irritated, or burnt out. So having a balance – a social life, other things to do, school – that's really helpful.
"Otherwise you're always thinking about cricket and putting that stress and pressure on yourself."
*'Multicultural participants' refers to those either born outside Australia or with one parent born outside Australia