A tournament for combined age-groups?

THE Indian cricket scenario could definitely do with the exuberance of youth. Unlike Pakistan, India does not have a tradition of giving breaks to players at a young age, which is understandable considering the elaborate domestic structure. The National Cricket Academy (NCA) now gives hope on this front, but there is no harm in looking at and creating more options and opportunities.

Why not introduce a tournament for teams of different age-groups ? We could have the best combinations of the under-19, under-22 and under- 25 of the country and see them in action together.

The under-19 cricketers have been in the spotlight over the past few seasons, under-22 cricket is being given emphasis this year, and the under-25 system could be instilled with some life. The tournament could be played on a pattern similar to the annual Challenger tournament which is played between India Seniors, India `A' and India `B' sides.Such a tournament will give an opportunity to the best combination of an age-group to play together and could make up for University cricket, which has seen a steady decline over the years.

Tarak Sinha, the renowned coach of Sonnet Club in Delhi, feels this is a good idea that can be worked on. ``Having such a tournament will definitely help watch the fringe players. But we should ensure that those who are playing for India, do not figure in these teams. After all, when we have some youngster bowling to a batsman like Sachin Tendulkar, the bowler is often all at sea,'' says Sinha.

The coach, who has produced six international cricketers, further suggests giving variety to such a tournament by including the Ranji Trophy champion team and maybe the Duleep Trophy champion team. ``We can have such a tournament on an experimental basis and then see how we can modify it. I think, ultimately, we should have games of a longer duration. After all, three-day and four- day cricket is where one can judge the technique and temperament of a player. It is not just a matter of having a good or bad day, but about the class of a player,'' adds Sinha.

``I think it is very important to watch the under-22 players. Those in the under-19 bracket may need some experience, after all, we don't see a Sachin Tendulkar every day. On the other hand, those in the under-25 age-group cannot be considered promising for too long'', Sinha says.

A legend in domestic cricket, Rajinder Goel agrees with Sinha on this point. In fact, he feels a player past the under-22 group, stands very little chance of making it to the international arena at a later stage. There could be exceptions though but he feels a youngster should be blooded at the big stage before he reaches the age of 20.

``The game now needs fitter players. The importance of physical fitness has never been felt so much and we have to target the age-groups of under-19 and under-22. I think an under-19 player should be a regular Ranji Trophy player if he is thinking of playing for India. In fact, by the time he is out of the under-16 bracket, he should be looking to cement a place in the Ranji Trophy team,'' says Goel, chairman of the National junior selection committee.

``Cricket is becoming more and more scientific, so I feel we should be trying to spot talent at the under-16 level itself. As for the under-25 system, I think it is more or less reduntant now,'' says the former Haryana left-arm spinner.

``A tournament like this is not a bad idea, but I would not be keen to see the under-25 players. But then, having an under-16 side would not be too good an idea, as it would start with a definite disadvantage against the under-19 and under-22 sides.

``We have been doing well at the under-16 and under-19 levels, and it is time we translate that success into meaningful exercise at the senior level. The senior cricketers are always in the limelight, but it is time we shifted the emphasis a bit to the junior level too,'' says Goel.The consensus seems to be that the under-19 and under-22 players hold the key to the future of the game in the country. But are the players past this age not in with a chance to represent India?

A batsman, or for that matter, a spinner, can definitely mature after the age of 22. And what about the comeback men like, say, Robin Singh?

Well, the idea is open to debate. But such tournaments could definitely add some freshness to the domestic structure.


New Delhi

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