January 15, 2013

Ranji Trophy, 2012-13

Long way to go for Under-19 stars

Aakash Chopra
Sandeep Sharma destroyed Rajasthan's middle order to take five wickets, Punjab v Rajasthan, Ranji Trophy, Group A, Mohali, 3rd day, December 3, 2012
Sandeep Sharma outperformed his Under-19 counterparts in the more testing arena of the Ranji Trophy  © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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August 26, 2012 was a momentous day for Indian cricket - their Under-19 team had lifted the World Cup in Australia, beating the hosts in the final. While the seniors had been whitewashed a few months ago in the same country, our boys defeated all odds to reclaim the coveted trophy. At one stroke, these youngsters became household names, for they were no longer appearing just on sports pages, but on the front pages of newspapers and tabloids. Even some of the most respectable voices in world cricket thought that a few of our boys might be ready to don the national colours.

With the league phase of this season's Ranji Trophy having concluded, this might be a good time to see how these promising young stars of the U-19 World Cup fared amid the senior men on their home turf. This may not only elaborate the relevance of Under-19 cricket but also reaffirm Ranji Trophy's place in Indian cricket. There have been many occasions when players have been made to jump the queue and represent the Indian team straight from the Under-19 level. Some of these players did sparkle in the beginning, but after a short while were sent back to domestic cricket to reclaim form. While some of them managed to find their way back to the top, others just flittered away into the oblivion.

Let's start with the Under-19 team captain Unmukt Chand, marked as the most promising cricketer of the lot, and touted to be a replacement for Gambhir and Sehwag. Unmukt has scored 445 runs at 37.08 in eight matches, while Jeewanjot Singh from Punjab, who played half of his Ranji matches on a green-top in Mohali, has scored 916 runs in nine matches. In any case, two centuries in 21 first-class matches doesn't really speak volumes about a potential Test opener.

Unfortunately, Unmukt isn't an aberration, for most players from the winning squad (barring Sandeep Sharma from Punjab) have either struggled to hold their own for their respective teams, or haven't even managed to break into the playing XI this Ranji season. Baba Aparajith, Prashant Chopra, Smit Patel and Akshdeep Nath average 39.50, 31.50 and 36.42 and 18 respectively. While left-arm spinner Vikas Mishra picked up 18 wickets for Delhi, Harmeet Singh, who was being pushed as the next big thing in Indian cricket, didn't feature for Mumbai even after he started the season for Rest of India and West Zone in the Irani Trophy and Duleep Trophy respectively. There are a few others who didn't even play a single game.

The only guy who stands out is Punjab's new ball bowler Sandeep Sharma, who has taken 41 wickets at 17.95. Incidentally, he was one of the underrated players of that World Cup-winning team, which tells us how incorrect our assessments could be with regards to youngsters. While most were predicting Chand, Harmeet and Aparajith to set the domestic season on fire, little did they realise that performances are a little difficult to replicate at the higher level immediately. Mostly, the younger lot is judged on potential based on few data points, for the sample size is too small, leaving a lot to everyone's imagination. One solid performance or one courageous response to a certain situation could be misleading and misinterpreted.

While it's important to give youngsters a go and also a long rope, it's equally prudent to hold your horses while making outrageous predictions about their immediate future. First-class cricket in India, however average its standard may be, remains the best breeding ground for upcoming talent, for the difference between Under-19 cricket and Ranji Trophy is huge. Ranji Trophy isn't the finishing school either, and frequent India-A tours must assume that responsibility. If we want to continue to grow as a cricketing nation, we need to get over this obsession with age-group tournaments, for they can only work as a feeder-line to first-class cricket, and not the route to the final destination.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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Posted by Amit on (February 6, 2013, 13:50 GMT)

I think you're a bit harsh on Harmeet, he's been unfairly left out of Mumbai squad (there's a LOT of regionalism here and he's not a Marathi). He needs to move to some other team.

Posted by Priyadarshan on (January 24, 2013, 12:02 GMT)

Dear Akash, I am a huge fan of your writing and fully agree with what you have said.Only thing I would like to add is lets judge these youngstars after two or three years 1st class cricket.Media also should not hype too much. After all this is just the begining.

Posted by Jaspreet Singh on (January 18, 2013, 10:50 GMT)

I think we need to have our young players experience county cricket. It would be great for the batsman in particular. For spinners, it will be new exposure and teach them a lot. And Zaheer has already shown how good time in county cricket can be for our seam bowlers.

Posted by Messi Barca on (January 17, 2013, 20:58 GMT)

I am delighted that many readers have disagreed with Aakash Chopra's assesment, one reader @Jayaesh summed it up perfectly in his comments. Numbers are not everything and potential and class, big match temperament and anyways numbers of our u-19 players are not bad in first place !! i urge state associations to give more chances to our u-19 players and stop this practice of inviting guest players who hop from state to state in twilight of there careers and thus blocking the place of youngster.

Posted by Aakash Chopra on (January 17, 2013, 13:11 GMT)

Hi guys,

Thanks for taking time out to go through the blog and also posting your valuable comments.

Well, some of us are entirely missing the point that I'm trying to make. This post is not an attempt to undermine the Under-19 cricketers, but to simply point out that there's only so much you should read in Under-19 performances. Just because Tendulkar scored Test centuries in his teens, it doesn't mean that every promising teenager should be given a Test cap ahead of many other domestic performers. If the said 'promising cricketer' is really exceptional, I have no doubt in my mind that he'll soon outshine the domestic stars too.

But it's imperative to wait for such a day and not start passing sweeping judgments about their future on the back of their exploits in Under-19.

Playing for India is a huge honor and an India cap should be earned on the basis of performances (Ranji/Duleep/India-A etc.) and should not gifted on simple 'promise'.

Thanks once again.

Aakash Chopra

Posted by Rahul Bose on (January 17, 2013, 8:31 GMT)

India can't afford to ignore talents who can perform in Aus or similar conditions. Performance in Ranji cricket is also a proven failed metric for assessing test success, unless one R Jadeja has scored a test triple while I was not looking.

Posted by Anilbthirtyone on (January 16, 2013, 18:16 GMT)

Well said Akash. I like your newspaper column too. Harmeet Singh is a case of swollen head by getting success too soon.

Posted by Nitin S Rawat on (January 16, 2013, 18:04 GMT)

Sandeep Sharma was always high on the cards. He's performed well not only in this U-19 World Cup but also the previous one, where he was one of our front-line bowlers with Unadkat, Menaria & Netravalkar. Not sure if he'd be able to delivery well on the bigger stage as he lacks pace and relies on swing, just like his contemporaries.

Posted by Ramesh on (January 16, 2013, 15:46 GMT)

Sachin Tendulkar - under 19 - century at Perth. what can you say about that, Akash? you can there is only.one Sachin, blah blah blah, but you'll never know till a chance is given..

Posted by yougander reddy on (January 16, 2013, 15:25 GMT)

i have a point here !! sandeep sharma eventhough my fav too apart from ishwar pandey !! the fact is tht sandeep sharma playd fr punjab on green tracks in mohali and those are bowler friendly conditions so what would tht say about ?? we saw how gud bhuvneshwar kumar was on debut on a seaming pitch but the next match he faltered whn he played on a pitch which dint favour the bowlrrs !!

same goes for ishwar pandey of mp .we all know tht from past 2 yrs top wicket takers are from mp last yr it was sudhindra and this yr it is ishwar pandey !! and mp concentrates more on fast bowlers by preparing green tops in all their home games !!

so sidharth kaul again from punjab ,anand rajan from mp these too are in top 5 wicket takers again !! so this all proves tht the top wicket takrrs hail from teams which make green tops and assist pacers

just like saurashtra and maharashtra which makes flat tracks for their batsmen to make tons and triple tons !! example is jadeja and pujara making triple tons in rajkot pitches !!

so first send ishwar pandey and sandeep sharma on india a tours and see where they end up !! we dont want another ishant sharma who used to bowl 152 kph before now struggling to bowl 138 kph thts pathetic !! and the biggest joke is ishant recently told tht he learnt to bowl inswinger recently after playing international cricketc frm past 6 yrs are u kidding me ??

jalaj saxena and shami ahmed and bhuvneshwar kumar all done well in india a tours so they deserve their spots in ind team !!

i seriously hope ishwar pandey and sandeep sharma make some serious progress in coming years and make our bowling stable luk strong !!

luk at pankaj singh he is getting 5 fors on a batting track in jaipur !! same goes for uday kaul who averages 52 as a wicket keeper batsman on punjab green tops same goes for jeewan jot singh of punjab too !!

i seriously hope that t.a.sekar of delhi dare devils shd become india's bowling coach !! he is the one who unearthed umesh yadav,aaron etc ., he deserves to coach our indian team bowlers !!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aakash Chopra
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.

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