Weed out chuckers and age cheaters
Bad habits die hard. Two of the worst in Indian cricket are the proliferation of chuckers and over-age players. It's always said, sometimes too quietly, that once a chucker, always a chucker. Under the pretext of rectifying a bowler's action, we in India tend to get the bowler to remodel his action and then expect him to be an effective wicket-taker. I have to emphatically say that no bowler reported for a suspect action has ever emerged 'cured' from the NCA.
In my previous column, when I mentioned about 130 'chuckers' had been reported in India's junior and senior cricket, many officials expressed surprise at the number. However, the more important line of investigation is to find out how these 'chuckers' got to senior cricket and why they were not stopped at the junior level.
Let's take the case of Gujarat offspinner Mohnish Parmar, who was allowed to bowl with an obvious suspect action right from the junior level. Things were so bad that he couldn't be played on dusty pitches because he turned his doosra viciously. At the 2006 Under-19 World Cup in Colombo, match referee Chris Broad even cautioned the Indian team management about his action after watching Parmar in practice.
Parmar returned home and continued to torment senior batsmen in the Ranji Trophy and was also picked for India A. The argument given in his favour usually revolved around his action, which resembled Muttiah Muralitharan's. The question asked was, 'If Murali was allowed to bowl, then why couldn't Parmar?' Then the cameras caught Parmar bowling his doosra well beyond the ICC's new limits and that was that.
There were many 'Parmars' in junior cricket and all were being 'treated' at the NCA during chief coach Dav Whatmore's stint. In fact, the number of chuckers noticed in domestic cricket increased during this period.
During the U-19 one-day knock-outs last season, the national junior selectors could pick only one offspinner in the 30 probables for the World Cup as quite a few had been stopped from bowling in that event because of suspect actions. An offspinner from Jharkhand had travelled with the India U-19 team to Australia only to have his action noticed by Australian umpires who then cautioned the Indian team management. When he played in an India U-19 tournament, the BCCI's committee for bowlers' suspect actions endorsed the view of the Australian umpires.
The bowlers reported for suspect actions would undergo 'rehab' at the NCA and then return to their respective states. The NCA had no control over what the player did after he left. When the player returned to first-class cricket, he would invariably not get the results he had earlier. He would then fall back on his suspect action, get reported again and once again wind up at the NCA. It was a farce. Only when the team of umpires Srinivas Venkatraghavan and AV Jayaprakash, and Javagal Srinath began to view first-class cricket footage through a software, which helped identify the degree of bowler's arm at the time of delivery, were the chuckers were spotted.
The umpires were then told that they were the final judges on the field of play and therefore could not expect the BCCI to act. After this directive, they have begun to actively call bowlers. The fact that chuckers continue to play in BCCI tournaments is a disgrace and a reflection on the careless attitude of the states towards what is a very serious issue. It can only be changed if chuckers are not allowed to play even in local cricket because when they do, and if they perform, they then get into state sides and into first-class cricket.
The other contentious issue, which state associations must tackle, is the age-cheats in junior cricket. Recently a parent in Delhi reportedly filed an affidavit in court about overage players being picked for the Vijay Merchant U-16 event. The irony was not lost on anyone who knew that we are into Merchant's birth centenary year.
Some of the age-fibs are to be blamed on officialdom itself. Some state associations are pressurised and others pick overage boys to ensure wins. In 2007-08, the BCCI launched the Polly Umrigar Trophy for the national inter-school competition with great fanfare. Instead of state associations playing against each other through their best schoolboy cricketers (as is done in all of our first-class cricket), the format had state school tournament champions playing each other in a knockout. The notorious schools that had a record of playing overage boys - and their names are known - ended up making a mockery of the tournament and the BCCI had to suspend it.
The most obvious case of age manipulation involves an India international who played in U-14, U-16 and U-19 tournaments within a span 11 months. After playing his U-14 state match at the age of 13 in 2001, he played U-17 and U-19 within a year at the age of 14. And at 17, he even played a Test in 2006. From then on, age seemed to catch up with this prodigious talent and between then and now, he's only played one more Test.
This age menace is growing at a rapid pace and is found at every level. In the latest incident, Goa Cricket Association president Dayanand Narvekar and his family members are under the police scanner for allegedly forging his son's birth certificate to make him eligible for the U-15 level. It's high time the BCCI appoints an ad-hoc body to run the affairs of GCA to protect young careers in the state.
Sadly genuine players, who have not cheated on their age suffer greatly, in terms of performance. The overage boys have more strength and during the growing years between 14 and 18, it's the physical strength that matters.
One solution is not to have age-based tournaments until the age of 16 and devise a mechanism that will make the inter-state school tournaments more effective. Ashok Mankad, Sunil Gavaskar, Eknath Solkar, Karsan Ghavri, Kailash Gattani, Milind Rege, Surinder and Mohinder Amarnath, and Brijesh Patel were products of inter-state school cricket. The pride in representing school and state has now been quickly switched to instant fame and fortune, regardless of rules, and school cricket has been rendered meaningless.
If the BCCI wants to get rid of these poisonous weeds in its system, its Cricket Development Committee needs to implement stringent measures by banning players who fudge their age. And if a bowler is 'called' again after rehab of one year, he too shouldn't be allowed to play at any level. It's time the committee takes care of the cheats by studying the ground realities of the junior game.
Makarand Waingankar has spent four decades covering the grassroots of Indian cricket . He tweets here