Has Parthiv been rushed into Test cricket?

THE diminutive Parthiv Patel, appearing even younger than his 17 years, made quite a sight at Nottingham. He also brought a pertinent question to many minds. How young is too young? Was this talented youngster being rushed into Test cricket?

I had expressed the view even earlier that it would have suited India's and Parthiv's long-term interests better had he gone through the grind of first class cricket for at least a year before making the big breakthrough.

Having said that I must admit Parthiv displayed remarkable composure and temperament for one so young when he kept wickets capably and batted tenaciously, walking into a pressure situation on the final day of the Trent Bridge Test. He was on a pair too.

There were big-built pacemen such as Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff testing the youngster with short balls, but he was equal to the occasion. Even the Englishmen appeared to have taken a liking for Parthiv. They applauded him on his way back to the pavilion.

The youngsters of today are lucky that there is so much exposure for them early on. There are World Cups at the under-15, u-17, and u-19 levels and before moving into the big league they get a feel of international competition.

Things like travelling to a foreign land, staying together as a team, and playing as a single unit for one's country is a wonderful experience in itself and no wonder some of the youngsters are maturing quickly.

In Parthiv's case, the fact that he represented India 'A' with distinction in South Africa and Sri Lanka, prior to the Test series in England, obviously boosted his levels of confidence. He is yet to figure in a domestic first class game though.

There is a natural ease in the manner in which he keeps wickets; he does move fluently, and has quick reflexes. Parthiv bats left-handed, appears to possess reasonable technique, is sound in defence, and obviously has a bright future in international cricket.

However, it is important that he is groomed with care. When somebody is so young, he can so easily lose his way, especially since his whole life changes after he moves into the international arena.

All of a sudden the youngster is a celebrity, and he has to learn quickly how to handle success. The expectations will be higher and there will be that much more pressure on him to deliver when he enters the field the next time.

It is this challenge that Parthiv will have to cope with, and therein lies his biggest test. His ability is not in question.

The examples of Laxman Sivaramakrishnan and Maninder Singh are before us. I was in the Indian side that toured Pakistan in 1982-83, and both these precociously talented spinners, not much older than what Parthiv is now, were in the squad. I had an opportunity to watch them from close quarters.

Any tour of Pakistan is demanding and that was a trip where India was up against a formidable home side, that boasted of some of the finest players of spin like Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad.

Maninder played in that series, Sivaramakrishnan did not. In the following tour of the West Indies, however, Sivaramakrishnan did make his Test debut. A couple of years later, he tasted super success against David Gower's Englishmen at home.

Now, Sivaramakrishnan was definitely one of the most talented cricketers I have come across, and he had it in him to become one of India's most successful cricketers ever.

He could get his leg-breaks to turn and bounce, he possessed a vicious googly, and had plenty of variety. He could hold his own with the bat, and was a wonderful fielder in virtually any position.

Similarly, Maninder Singh was a fine left-arm spinner with a lovely action and natural flight and turn. A bowler with the ability to finish with more than 200 Test wickets.

In the end, given their ability, both had disappointing careers. Siva could never reproduce the magic of the 1984-85 season and Maninder, though he lasted much longer and did figure in India's 1986 Test series triumph in England, eventually ended up with less than a 100 Test wickets.

When I look back at their careers now, I have a distinct feeling that had they honed their skills for a couple of years in domestic cricket before graduating to a higher level, they could have served India better. They would have also learnt to handle failures better.

They were rushed into international cricket, and though they tasted success, they weren't quite prepared mentally to handle the expectations and the fame. My feeling is there was none to guide them initially, and they were, thus, on their own.

There are, however, exceptions and Sachin Tendulkar is a glorious one. He was only 16 when he travelled to Pakistan in '89.

I was the captain of that side, and it did not take long for me to realise that here was a very special talent. I decided to have a one-to-one conversation with him early on the tour and I believe the talk did help Tendulkar.

I told Tendulkar, "Don't worry about failures. You are going to play in all the Tests." It is vital to instil confidence in the youngsters. After all, they are taking a huge step forward, and the fear of failure should be the last thing on their mind.

Tendulkar faced the top-notch pace combination of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis without flinching on that trip, won the admiration of team-mates and opponents, and he was well on his way to glory in international cricket.

Perhaps, Tendulkar did not require to play first class cricket for more than a year before moving on to the big league since he was so tough mentally, apart from being gifted with the willow. But the genius of Tendulkar is an exception rather than the rule.

Ideally, it would be better if youngsters, if they are just 17 like Parthiv, are not thrust into the international arena. They might come good. However, just imagine the effects of failures on their minds. Is the risk worth it?