Change the format

SCHOOL AND UNIVERSITY CRICKET has to be recognised as the base of domestic cricket. A cricketer can survive only if he is educated as there is no guarantee that he will make it to the top. It's a serious issue that needs to be tackled.-K. RAMESH BABU

Fudging the age in junior cricket begins with the U-15 inter-state tournament. If the BCCI decides to have inter-school tournaments instead of the U-15 tournament, schools could be penalised for playing overaged boys.

Fudging the age is not a new phenomenon in Indian junior sport. It is a disease. As far as cricket is concerned, all remedial medical measures taken by the BCCI to determine whether the teenagers are really teenagers have proven futile. Not because the measures were found wanting, but simply because the zealous manipulations of ambitious parents proved too much.

Since the BCCI is distinctly unable to maintain a check on the players' parents, the only other feasible option is to initiate inter-school state tournaments like the ones that were played in the 1960s and 1970s.

Among those chosen to tour England with the India Under-19 team, some boys have not aged past 19 and have been playing junior cricket for more than five years. One of the players in the India A team selected for the Australian tour is declared as 17 years old. Yet, the same player toured Sri Lanka with the India Under-17 squad in 2003 as a 16-year-old!

One can't blame the national junior selectors for picking such boys as they are cleared in the bone tests conducted by the hospital approved by the BCCI, but if a boy claims to have aged only one year from 2003 to 2006, something is basically wrong somewhere.

There is one cricketer in Central Zone whose BCCI records state he was born in 1991 and yet he has been playing Under-22 for the past two years. If the 15-year-old boy is good enough to play Under-22, then why was he not picked for the India Under-19 team that played the World Cup?

People associated with junior cricket feel fudging the age begins with the Under-15 inter-state tournament. Once the age of the boy is shown as less at that time, things work in his favour as he gets an additional 3-4 years to play junior cricket. This affects the growth of players who are genuinely of the age they claim to be.

If the BCCI decides to have inter-school tournaments instead of the Under-15 tournament, schools could be penalised for playing overaged boys.

The BCCI at present insists on the submission of the birth certificate, but that can be easily manipulated. What can't be manipulated is the certificate a school gives for the first entry of a boy at the age of 4 or 5. That certificate is crucial to determining the age of a boy.

In the age groups tournament, only if a boy is a performer does the association-selectors-parents combination, in connivance, play him. It's all about winning the championship. Not that it won't happen in an inter-school tournament, but with the involvement of the BCCI, not many will take the risk of playing an overaged boy.

Former Indian schools batsman Vinay Lamba says that he always took pride in performing for his school. And, when he was picked for the All-India Schoolboys' team in 1965, his selection was welcomed by the staff and students of his school. It's a different feeling when one represents one's school, he said.

The other advantage is the likelihood of Indian cricket producing thinking cricketers through inter-school tournaments. The cricket culture would thus spread. Since it's not mandatory to attend school, we get to watch abusive culture in the age-group tournaments.

Something also needs to be done to enhance the standard of inter-university tournaments. Those playing in the Under-19 and Under-22 age group inter-state tournaments are unwilling to turn out for the universities because of poor facilities and a meagre daily allowance. But the moment the Mumbai Cricket Association decided to sponsor the Mumbai University, the Under-22 state players were willing to represent the university.

The decision to play the All-India Universities team in the Hemu Adhikari inter-academy tournament in Bangalore is commendable. But if the team also participates in the major tournaments in India, university cricket will definitely get a boost. School and university cricket has to be recognised as the base of domestic cricket. A cricketer can survive only if he is educated as there is no guarantee that he will make it to the top. It's a serious issue that needs to be tackled.