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Undoubtedly, India A cricket catches my fancy like nothing else, more than even an odd international tournament here and there. In fact, I found myself tracking the scores of the current A team in England more closely as opposed to the tournament in which the seniors were engaged in, in the Emerald Islands. And hence the observations.
In the first game, Yorkshire fielded as many as three teenage debutants in the match against India A. Obviously, Yorkshire didn't take this game seriously. After all it was a side show for them and perhaps an unnecessary match scheduled by the ECB. India A being the guests could only expect better competition. If the hosts decided to play spoilsport, then so be it.
But what irked me more, was the India A team make-up. A couple of players in the side had got a promotion without ever playing a single first-class game. Apparently these players were picked on the back of their performances for the India Under-19 and IPL cricket. Representing their respective states and playing against the seasoned campaigners in the Ranji Trophy wasn't considered important enough while fast-tracking them into the big league.
Representing India A is as close as you can get to playing for the country and is perhaps the last litmus test to assess if you're ready. The possibility of a player donning India colours without having played even state level cricket is quiet preposterous. What kind of message would these selections send to hundreds of players who're toiling hard in the domestic circuit? Wouldn't they rue the fact that they aren't U-19 any more? In fact, age-forging is a serious menace in Indian cricket, which ought to be dealt with seriously and immediately. A lot of efforts, including conducting medical tests, have been made to eradicate it but in reality, we have made very little headway.
In my opinion, the only way to discourage kids from cheating is to make age-group cricket less important. Success at age-group cricket should only take you to real cricket, which is first-class cricket and must not become a ticket to the highest level. In the current scenario, such out-of-turn-selections and getting decent money in the IPL, is encouraging players to remain U-19 for as long as they possibly can.
An U-19 cricketer in England, representing his country, would only make it to the second XI of his county. And if he's really talented, he might make it to the first XI at the most, but definitely nothing beyond that. He wouldn't even dream of playing for England A in the same season, leave alone playing for them first before playing for the county. This cricketer has no reason to stay U-19 using unfair means. In fact the longer he stays U-19, the longer it might take for him to break into the big league. Also this system ensures that their domestic structure is not devalued. In fact, most countries, except a few in the subcontinent, follow the same structure.
India A should be used as the platform to judge a player's calibre one last time or for getting the fringe players back into some kind of form. This tour could have been an ideal opportunity for players like Ishant Sharma, RP Singh and Sreesanth to get some less-pressure cricket under their belts before the Test series against Sri Lanka.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.