January 27, 2001

The vexed over aged issue: Ban the guilty for life

The `Test' series between the India and English under-19 sides is being played and some young lads of the home team have done well so far. Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan, Vinayak Mane and Gautam Gambhir have created an impression good enough for people to take notice of. The English side is struggling to come to terms with the conditions in the sub-continent and barring their skipper, not many have burnt many bridges. Then, of course, by and large the English lads generally take up cricket as a profession only after they are into their twenties. On the contrary India has always tried to blood youngsters at the first chance available which is appreciated with a twinge of envy all over the world.

The India under-19 side under Roger Binny has done well ever since winning the youth World Cup in Sri Lanka early last year. But the fact remains that some of the boys have definitely given enough room for everyone to be skeptical about their age and hence their eligibility to play at all. Even before the start of the current under-19 `Test' series there was a major controversy involving some boys trying to fiddle with their birth certificates. There are enough ways and means to find the culprits out but a combination of corrupt officials and unscrupulous parents dodge the system. This sharp practice has been there for a long time and will be there as long as the BCCI and all the associations take a severe stance. The Australians have reportedly informed that they will not take part in an age-limited tournament as long as the Asian countries don't stop encouraging sharp practices from the players.

There may be substance in the cynical attitude adopted by other countries and it has to be said in all fairness that producing bogus birth certificates is tantamount to blatant cheating. I am convinced that the boys who are greedy to play at any cost have the connivance of everyone right from the school authorities up to their State Associations. What has also helped some players to cheat is the fact that some are out of school and some may be attending universities and the players themselves produce the certificates. The matches in this category were played between schoolboys of different countries some years ago and as such the schools had to produce an authentic certificate lest the reputation of the institution was tarnished beyond repair. With the under-19 aspect coming in, only the parents and players know how they go about fiddling the birth certificates.

The off-shoot of some cricketers cheating and playing in the under-19 category is that most of them fade away and in fact some don't even represent their state teams in the Ranji Trophy. The dubious characters bulldoze with all their might at the junior level and the moment they are drafted into the senior level, they fizzle out. There have been many instances of this happening and I for one would not want to name anybody. The question that remains unanswered is what to do about players cheating in order to qualify? The BCCI has as usual come up with a willy-nilly solution with a fine imposed on any player caught. It is very obvious that the players themselves as well as their parents are aware of the fact that they are cheating. Then why is it that they are allowed to get away with sheer nonsense?

One can only presume that the office-bearers of various associations encourage such blasphemy to try and build up favours with either the bureaucrats or business associates. That is the reason some players with enough clout show such flagrant disregard for laws and rules. The only just and equitable punishment for players found guilty of cheating is to ban them for life and anything else is a mere waste of time. The leniency shown sometimes is justified by officials saying that they should not spoil a youngster's future. This is the sort of line that might help politicians but these days it has become difficult to differentiate between the cricket administrators and politicians. After all, the way some issues have been handled by the so-called experienced administrators, politicians may probably even fare better if they administer the game.

It is very difficult to remember when was the last time that a cluster of cricketers from one under-19 team went on to play for the country. If my memory serves me right it should be the 1981 batch led by Ravi Shastri. After that it has been a case of a Laxman here, a Jadeja there and a Badani now and then. It has to be realised that the youngsters of today are our future hopefuls and if they are not inculcated with the right kind of approach and values, then everyone concerned with the game is wasting his time. As it is, the national selectors are having a tough time to pick 20 good players and if the situation is not rectified then only God can save Indian cricket. I know for sure that at least one former legend will agree with me on this aspect.