BCCI's laudable programme

IT is difficult to talk in the same breath about the structured programme of the Board of Control for Cricket in India at the junior level with any other national unit.

IT is difficult to talk in the same breath about the structured programme of the Board of Control for Cricket in India at the junior level with any other national unit. At every segment, the plans of the BCCI are pragmatic, well crafted, and understandably result oriented.

True, the Board has enough wherewithal to expend and experiment. The junior World Cup triumph is just one illustration of this. The pyramid is so well constructed that there is a smooth flow of talent that makes it to the top in almost all departments of the game. This endeavour is worthy of emulation by other sports as well. There is a constant exposure to the players in international competitions within that age group. The tour of England by the India `A' team is one such effort. The team has a few players who have already faced the rigours of Test cricket. The squad has embarked on a 70-day tour, which should prove of immense benefit to the players. The boys will enjoy the guidance and coaching of Sandeep Patil, former Test cricketer, who shaped Kenya so well in the recent World Cup.

Not long ago, the India `A' team had a very successful tour of the West Indies, taking part in the local competition. There were some excellent performances from the Indians during that tour. But a tour of England is vastly different and considered the ultimate test to achieving perfection. No player is viewed as a complete cricketer without a stint in England. As Patil rightly observed, "in England, the conditions change every hour and that will be a challenge for the players."

That 13 of the 16 members of the squad have figured in international competitions underscores the strength of the team. It is now for the players to take advantage of the opportunity and progress further in their careers and emulate stars like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid.

Almost everyone is brimming with confidence, and none more than the skipper and opening batsman, Shiv Sundar Das. Interestingly, Das has already won the national colours and has played in as many as 25 matches. There is bound to be more attention on the performances of Parthiv Patel, the youngest ever to make a Test debut, and also on Ambati Tirupati Rayudu, perceived by observers as an outstanding talent waiting to burst on the national scene.

English conditions offer excellent scope for pace bowlers to hone their skills, especially in swing and swerve. And there cannot be a better forum for Lakshmipathi Balaji, Avishkar Salvi and Ifran Pathan (jr) to show their mettle. At the same time, the pitches will undoubtedly provide a challenge to the spinners like Sridharan Sriram and Murali Karthik.

More than evaluating the value that will accrue to the players, what needs to be commended is the choice of a full tour to England by the Board. It cannot be denied that India's baptism in Test came up against England in the 30s and since then every visit was looked upon as a step up on the ladder. The vibrancy and spirit of Indian cricket always captivated the discerning audience from Lord's to Leeds, from Old Trafford to the Oval, thanks to the charm and craft demonstrated by the galaxy of stars like C. K. Nayudu, Lala Amarnath, Vijay Merchant, Syed Mushtaq Ali, Vijay Hazare and of course Sunil Gavaskar for the masterly innings he played at the Oval in 1979.

Noted writer, Neville Cardus, viewed Indian cricket as radiating a rare energy. "Indian cricket, of course," he wrote, "has always been impulsive and of more reliable appeal to the aesthetic sense than to the baser competitive instincts. There should perhaps be some different way evolved of estimating values of Indian cricket. The prosaic statistical evidence of the scoreboard cannot tell us anything relevant about cricket which is charged by a lissome, natural energy, radiating here and there like a lightening that strikes as soon as it has flickered."

So when the Indians begin their tough and arduous tour they are only adding to the long and historical tradition punctuated by some extraordinary display of proficiency that was underscored in the momentous trophy triumph in the 1983 World Cup. The colts that constitute the `A' team and representing the quintessence of the second line talent waiting for national recognition should strive to match the deeds of their predecessors. It will be a pity, however, that the team has no fixture arranged with the England `A' team in the form of a Test. As the coach Sandeep Patil fondly hoped before departure, the Counties at least would field their best teams to make the tour of the Indian youngsters a very rewarding and memorable one.

It goes without saying that the future of Indian cricket rests largely on how well these players shape and sustain in the difficult and testing conditions that make cricket a fascinating spectacle in England.