Why isn’t the transition from age-group to first class cricket easy despite players from Tamil Nadu being so talented? Batting coach at the TNCA P. C. Prakash shares his views

The transition from age-group cricket to first class level represents a critical jump for aspirants in Tamil Nadu. Many, despite the talent, do not make it to the next level.

Pathamadai Chander Prakash is well qualified to speak on the subject. After all, he was the State under-16 coach in 2008 and 2009, became the batting coach of the Ranji Trophy side in 2010, and guided the State under-19 boys in 2011. The former Tamil Nadu batsman has been working with the TNCA Academy since 2012 as batting coach.

Respected batsman

In his time, Prakash was a respected middle-order batsman who made 1778 first class runs in 36 matches at 39.51. His career, which began in 1985, lasted just six years but Prakash made his presence felt in a strong Tamil Nadu Ranji line-up.

Says the 51-year-old Prakash, “We need to send our age-group players to more competitions and friendly matches outside the State. Presently, they are strong at home but struggle when they travel. For instance, if they figure in matches in North India during winter, they would be better players of the moving ball. The boys should be exposed to different conditions.”

Prakash has a point. The age-group cricketers from Karnataka and Kerala have performed particularly well in recent times because they have been involved in plenty of `away’ games.

The State under-16 boys did well to top the South Zone league this season but stumbled at the all-India level. Tamil Nadu’s off-spinning all-rounder Washington Sundar and left-arm spinner R. Sai Kishore were selected for training in the National Cricket Academy, but will the two make the next grade?

Prakash, popularly known as PC in cricketing circles, points out that the quality of pitches needs to improve at the first division level for the young spinners to come through.

“Teams seek outright wins and there are plenty of red soil wickets where the ball turns from day one. The young spinners often forget what it is like to bowl on a good pitch. The value of bowling a decent line and length is gone. And they do not rip the ball hard enough.”

Interesting suggestions

P. C has plenty of interesting suggestions. He stresses conducting at least a couple of tournaments on matting wickets at the age-group level. “I think some cricket on matting is a must. It helps the batsmen cope with bounce and they become better back-foot players. Resultantly, they improve their horizontal bat shots.”

Prakash feels stretching the Buchi Babu Tournament matches to three days would help the youngsters. “Presently, it is 90 overs for each side over two days and the bowlers’ mindset after 45 overs becomes defensive. This can adversely impact bowlers in their formative years. The three-day matches can be accommodated if we have lesser number of teams with greater emphasis on quality.”

The emerging cricketers, PC says, have to be given a break at the right time. “Take the case of B. Indrajith. He is an extremely promising batsman who consistently notched up big scores last year. But then, he did not get picked in the State Ranji side.”

PC opines the under-16 category should be scrapped and an under-17 level should take its place. “The biggest physical changes in boys occur from age 17 to 19. That is when they usually grow. The young pacemen fill out more and the spinners, becoming taller, struggle with their trajectory.”

Prakash concedes coaching youngsters in the days of twenty20 cricket is a challenge. Yet, he remains optimistic. “If you work on the basics without tampering too much with their natural game, the boys should come through. If your fundamentals are sound, you should be able to make a mark in all formats.”

This sound easy but takes some doing.