Heartening news

THE news of the Indian government clearing the way for the resumption of cricketing ties between India and Pakistan at the junior and `A' levels is heartening.

By K. SRIKKANTH

THE news of the Indian government clearing the way for the resumption of cricketing ties between India and Pakistan at the junior and `A' levels is heartening. It will do the young cricketers of both countries a world of good, as it will be a severe test of temperament and skill for them.

An India-Pakistan encounter at any level generates plenty of excitement. There is a lot of pride at stake, and this can only bring the best out of the aspirants. Cricket is a lot about mental strength and toughness. The matches are certain to harden the cricketers.

I am especially thrilled about a competition for the Academy teams. These are the nurseries of talent, and it will be a great exposure for the boys.

Whatever is the amount of coaching and training, unless the budding cricketers are able to test their skills in competitive matches, something will be amiss.

It is here that these tournaments, where the boys will learn so much about camaraderie, assume significance. Taking on Pakistan will bring the best out of the lads.

I remember leading the India under-19 team in two Tests against Pakistan at home in 1978-79. It was a series where we learnt a lot. The matches, that were keenly fought, helped us evolve faster as cricketers.

Some of the cricketers from those teams including Salim Malik, Rameez Raja, Rizwan-uz-Zaman, Rashid Khan, Talat Mizra, Kiran More, Chandrakant Pandit, Gopal Sharma and yours truly went on to represent the country at the highest level.

The matches created a lot of interest and I can recall enthusiastic crowds at the venues. After all, it was that magical match-up — India vs Pakistan.

The pressures of an international match, even at a junior level, are different, and we all picked up quite a few things. At the end of the series, we were all much better off temperamentally for the challenges ahead.

I got a hundred at the expense of the Pakistan attack at the Eden Gardens and it was easily my finest moment at the under-19 level. I was young, eager to make a mark, and that effort did boost my confidence enormously. I now knew that I could, if I worked hard, make the transition to a higher level.

I distinctly recall the enthusiasm among all of us as we geared up for the challenge of meeting Pakistan. There was great team-spirit in the side, and we performed well in the series.

Before too long, I was in the reckoning for a place in the Indian Test and ODI sides. My performances against the Pakistan under-19 team were noticed. When Asif Iqbal's star-studded team visited India in 1979-80, I was picked in the South Zone side for the tour game at Hyderabad.

Salim Malik and Rameez Raja, too came through the under-19 system. -- Pic. THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY-

It was a match where I was up against Imran Khan & Co. A daunting task. I decided to play my natural game and reached the three-figure mark which put me in contention for an India place. That knock will always stay in my mind, as will the under-19 series against Pakistan.

Later on, after my career as a cricketer came to a close, I had the good fortune of being the coach of the India `A' side that toured Pakistan after the mid 90s. That was a campaign in which cricketers such as Ajit Agarkar, Sairaj Bahutule and MSK Prasad turned in some fine displays.

In fact all three of them progressed to wear the India cap, and Agarkar continues to be a part of the side. That was a tour where the hospitality of the Pakistanis won our hearts. I hope that cricketing ties between the two countries resume.

Recently, the Challenger Series limited overs competition was held in Bangalore and plenty of aspirants received an opportunity to pit their skills against seasoned opponents.

That the India stars took part in the competition, apart from adding lustre to the tournament, gave the youngsters a chance to know their true worth, against world class players.

However, I would have been happier had the pitches been more conducive to the bowlers. There are a lot of exciting pace prospects in the country at the moment, and I would expect the surfaces to offer more assistance to them.

Someone like the promising L. Balaji still managed a five-wicket haul. Yet, on the whole, the pitches appeared too batsman-friendly for me. Of course, chasing under the lights proved disastrous for all the teams in the competition, as other elements, such as the evening dew, came into play,

The placid nature of the pitches gave the teams batting first too great an advantage in a day-night game. In the first half of the match, it appeared that the pacemen were like lambs to slaughter.

Now this should never have happened. The Board has the right idea. It wants sporting pitches, where the batsmen and the bowlers have an equal opportunity. Such pitches would open up possibilities for great finishes.

I disagree with the theory that only tall scoring games will keep the crowd entertained. Yes, we need a lot of runs. At the same time, we need an engrossing contest between the bat and the ball.

Otherwise, all the runs scored will be devalued. I do not want to take credit away from those who performed in the Challenger Series. That would be cruel. After all, they can only display their skills on the pitch offered to them.

However, I am sure even the batsmen will be much better off, if the bowlers, particularly the pacemen, are not reduced to being mere spectators.