Boys or men?

Those responsible for choosing India’s Under-19 squad must have known, or at the very least strongly suspected, that several of the leading candidates were too old, writes Peter Roebuck.

India’s victory in the Under-19 World Cup was a sham. Strong minded local reporters have demonstrated that several of the players in the victorious team were overage. Dignified past captains, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and Bishan Singh Bedi, have pointed out that some of the team’s most important players did not look at all like teenagers.

None of them spoke with animosity. Rather they were revealing inconvenient truths that Indian cricket has ignored for altogether too long. Doubtless it goes further. It is inconceivable that jiggery-pokery is limited to youth cricket. After all, the problem was caused not by 21-year-old boys but 55-year-old men.

Rival teams suspected that India was fielding overage players, but were too polite to say anything. It was not hard to uncover the truth. A cursory scrutiny of the career records of the players involved exposed some remarkable anomalies. Those responsible for choosing their nation’s Under-19 squad must have known, or at the very least strongly suspected, that several of the leading candidates were too old.

Every nation has from time to time been obliged to rein in overzealous youth officials. The malaise is deeper. Consider India’s reaction to the victory. Suddenly the supposed boys were hailed as champions and paraded around town with gloating administrators in tow. Far from looking embarrassed, the adults appeared overwhelmed. After all India might have won legitimately.

Worse, money was given to these supposed boys as a reward for their supposed triumph. By all means give a deserving team a pat on the back, and a senior side a felicitation. But the local custom of giving lakhs to every Tom, Dick and Alok who brings home a trophy is vainglorious. Moreover, it reveals an obsession with the material at the expense of the spirit. Doubtless it made an impression on the players. Money is everything.

In the past Indian authorities might have been able to claim that the boys were from the Punjab or outstations, and that dates of birth are hard to determine in remote regions. But excuses of this sort are no longer plausible. Indian cricket cannot have it both ways. Either it is an emerging nation or a responsible member of the community with the game’s wider interests at heart. Either it is properly organised or in a state of convenient chaos.

Those happy to accept the reality of Indian power, and aware of the importance of Indian money, are entitled to expect higher standards from the new powerbrokers. Otherwise cynicism and opportunism will spread like a cancer.