Youngsters revel

Pradeep Sangawan holds a lot of promise.-VIVEK BENDRE

The under-19 level allows the talented youngsters to display their skills and gain invaluable experience on tours. India, like the other sub-continent countries, has followed the policy of catching them young. Over the years, several cricketers havemade it to the senior National side based on their performances at the under-19 level.

While the absorbing series between India and Australia was going on, there was plenty of action at different levels in different time zones. The South Africans beat West Indies at home after being one down, Delhi regained the Ranji Trophy at the Wankhede Stadium and the India under-19 team won the Test and the tri-series in South Africa. The triumph of Delhi marked the culmination of the efforts put in by the team right through the season and one should admit that they are worthy winners of the National Championship. Delhi had a strong batting line-up even in the absence of Sehwag and their medium pace attack can test the best of line-ups in the country.

The 2007-08 Ranji season saw a lot of sides blooding youngsters and this resulted in some bitter feelings between some coaches and administrators. However, a few youngsters acquitted themselves well in the first-class circuit and in fact the Delhi and Uttar Pradesh associations persuaded the BCCI to release Sangawan and Tanmay Srivastav from the India Under-19 team in South Africa to enable them to figure in the Ranji final. Both Srivastav and Sangawan made their mark in the final as they did on the tour of South Africa in the under-19 tri-series and Tests. The triangular series featured India, South Africa and Bangladesh which served as a preamble to the forthcoming youth World Cup in Malaysia.

The under-19 level allows the talented youngsters to display their skills and gain invaluable experience on tours. India, like the other sub-continent countries, has followed the policy of catching them young. Over the years, several cricketers have made it to the senior National side based on their performances at the under-19 level. As such, the BCCI provides the youngsters excellent opportunities by sending them on tours to various countries. The current India under-19 team had been on tours to New Zealand, England, Sri Lanka and Pakistan prior to the South African tour, all in a space of just one year! In comparison, the youngsters from teams other than the sub-continent hardly play any international cricket.

India has traditionally been a very strong force at the under-19 level as a result of the players being brought up in a well structured cricket set-up. The strength of the Indians was evident in South Africa as they outplayed the host and Bangladesh in the tri-series. As the coach of the team, I was immensely pleased with the maturity and the cricketing acumen of the boys. The reason for our success was the execution of our plans with clinical precision. The camaraderie was outstanding and the boys played with a strong will to win and even during moments of crisis, their confidence never flagged.

As many as seven members of the squad play for their state sides regularly which indicates that these boys need to be followed closely but at the same time they must be put through the grind in first-class cricket for at least another three seasons. The likes of Virat Kohli, Abhinav Mukund, Pradeep Sangawan and Tanmay Srivastav are extremely promising but they should not be thrust into the big league earlier than necessary. Remember the cases of Parthiv Patel and Suresh Raina? Of course, Raina once again has got back into the Indian team and none can blame Badrinath if he contemplates going under the knife to get himself a likeable face.

After being with the India under-19 and the Tamil Nadu teams, I have seen quite a few talented players and sides over the last couple of seasons. While there is enough of bench strength in terms of batting, the bowling seems too thin and needs to be addressed very quickly. Here again, there is a tendency to get misled by the number of outright results that have been the feature of the Ranji Trophy last season. With an increase in the number of youngsters in first-class cricket, it is imperative to educate them on the importance of developing technical skills which will make them better and consistent performers in the long run. Unfortunately, decisions and assessments of players have been made on the basis of their one-day performances.

The time has come to concentrate on the promising young bowlers like Sangawan, Iqbal Abdullah and Appanna. They have been around for a while and have enough promise but unless they are guided properly and made to improve their game, India will be looking down the barrel in a couple of years. Basically they need to get out of the restrictive mode and enhance their consistency in line and length. The flip side of the one-day format is that the bowlers get into a comfort zone as a result of having protection out in the deep, allowing them to get away lightly with poor deliveries. It’s important that all the time and effort put in to foster the youngsters is not frittered away at a time when they are looking to graduate to the senior level.