Sanjay Manjrekar
Former India batsman; now a cricket commentator and presenter on TV

Blood them young, but be careful

India Under-19s may have won the World Cup, but if the selectors wish to pick some of them for the national team, they must make sure MS Dhoni backs their picks

Sanjay Manjrekar

September 3, 2012

Comments: 38 | Text size: A | A

India Under-19s celebrate their World Cup triumph, Australia v India, ICC U-19 World Cup, final, Townsville, August 26, 2012
Resist the temptation to make populist selections © ICC/Getty

If any of the India Under-19 stars get into the national team soon, they will owe some of it to the broadcasters of the World Cup. The Indian juniors put up a superb performance to win the tournament in Australia, where their seniors were humbled six months ago. But the attention the U-19s received this time was exceptional. As they progressed in the World Cup, the broadcasters increased their focus on the tournament. Why, even while India played their first Test of the home season, against New Zealand in Hyderabad, viewers were continuously informed there was a final being played in Townsville and were given updates of India's chase. That got the Indian media and fans involved as well.

In recent times, Indian selectors have shown a clear tendency for populist picks. With the change of guard in the national selection committee scheduled for the next meeting, that approach may change, but one still cannot rule out the possibility of a couple of players from the U-19 team getting fast-tracked into the national team.

People in power love to take decisions that make them popular, and, given the current mood, picking Unmukt Chand or Harmeet Singh or any other would certainly make the selectors very popular among a large part of the media and fan base.

I believe fast-tracking is a good thing. When I was Mumbai captain, I often indulged in it, but you must do it only in exceptional circumstances and with great care and thought, because there is a rare, young talent at stake.

Pakistan have had an incredible track record of picking players straight from the club level. A few players were even picked after being observed a couple of times in the nets and, guess what, some of them went on to become legends of the game.

How did Pakistan manage to pull a rabbit from the hat so often? First, because they did not have an elaborate first-class cricket structure, the system habitually got bypassed. The men in power did not have much respect for the assembly line. But the more critical reason for their success with fast-tracked players was the fact that their captain backed his picks.

Three to watch

  • Unmukt Chand My first impression of him - on a lively pitch at the Tony Ireland Stadium in Townsville - was that, unlike the English or the Australian U-19 players, he looked a proper top-order batsman, a more finished product than all the batsmen I saw in the competition.
  • In that game, he looked to graft. He was leaving a lot of balls outside the off stump - a great sign for someone who seems an instinctively attacking player. It is fashionable these days to attack your way out of trouble; he chose the more reliable way to success. Once he was in full flow you could see he had all the shots in the book and even had the big six-hitting shots against the faster bowlers.
  • As Sourav Ganguly pointed out, he was hitting the big shots by staying in the crease, and did not need the momentum of charging down the wicket to get the extra power.
  • Baba Aparajith A genuine offspinner with a classical offspinner's action, who likes to spin the ball and will bowl the full quota of ten overs every match.
  • But guess what? He will also bat at No. 3, because he has the temperament of a top-order batsman. Where do you find such a rare combination?
  • Smit Patel He bats with a great deal of spunk. He is an ideal No. 7, and you can also risk him at No. 6. But as keeper, he is very orthodox - technically sound, moves well against the seamers on foreign pitches and has an Indian style of keeping, which means he moves with the ball and gets behind it in swinging and seaming conditions, rather than the Australian style - collecting the ball beside the body - that is widely followed these days.

Imran Khan was as excited about the raw talent as the fellow player or selector who had spotted and recommended it to him. Pakistan's top run-getter, Inzamam-ul-Haq, was picked largely on hearsay. Imran had only one good look at Inzi in a friendly match and he was hooked.

But what happened a few weeks later with Inzamam in Australia was interesting. Struggling to cope with the seaming, bouncy conditions in the 1992 World Cup, Inzamam ran up some low scores while batting at No. 3. But instead of thinking he had made a wrong punt, Imran dropped Inzamam down the order to No. 5 and batted at No. 3 himself. The runs started to flow from Inzamam's bat again and Pakistan went on to win that World Cup.

The pick was successful because the captain believed in the talent too. It was not one thrust on him by someone else. Imran also had a personal interest in Inzamam's success to show the world that he had picked a winning horse.

So if India's selectors decide to fast-track any U-19 player into the national team, they should go ahead and do it, but not before making sure that MS Dhoni is as enthusiastic about the talent as they are.

For fast-tracking to succeed in the long-term, the selector or the captain must be excellent judges of talent. I am still astonished at how so many outstanding and experienced players turn out to be very poor judges of talent. I remember Imran reacting to one failed attempt to fast-track an Indian player during Raj Singh Dungarpur's reign as chairman of selectors. "One needs to have a real good understanding of the game and talent to take such risks," Imran told me. "People like Dungarpur are just not qualified to make such decisions."

Dungarpur meant well for Indian cricket when he tried to replicate the Pakistan theory in the late '80s and early '90s, but it's obvious not everyone has the eye. I think among all the India captains I have seen, Sourav Ganguly perhaps had the best eye for talent.

So I'd tell the selectors: go ahead and pick any U-19 player from the World Cup squad that you think can make it to the Indian team - but make sure you have Dhoni on your side.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

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Posted by   on (September 5, 2012, 17:15 GMT)

@Percy_Fender. Your suggestion is interesting and worth considering. But one of them seems to be getting carried away with personalities and personal preferences. That doesn't board well fora rational talent scout. Others are fine. ( I should admit, Sourav, was the most rational (and unbiased) cricketer in identifying, promoting and continuously supporting talent from any part of the country)

Posted by   on (September 4, 2012, 22:10 GMT)

I liked Smit Patel's "Big shot coming" shouts from behind the stumps! While I agree on the three, missing Harmeet Singh and Sanjay Sharma is almost a crime. These two would have to succeed for all the talent they've today. Vijay Zol was another who impressed but imploded during games that mattered the most.

Posted by MunafAhmed811 on (September 4, 2012, 14:35 GMT)

Pakistan may have produced a lot of special talents based on hunches but it has produced lots and lots of duds & thats why they are medicore 1 day and brilliant other day (unpredictable a.k.a fluke performances based on which glasses one uses to see the performances). First class cricket will not be taken seriously by players unless it is taken seriously by selectors. Chand/Harmeet/Baba do deserve chances but fast tracking them to India team is not a good idea. Send them to play county cricket or league cricket in SA/Aus and them make them play one season of Ranji and IPL ( to get used to crowd/media pressure) as well. Then taking performances all accross these stages into consideration draft them into team or send them to NCA to polish of identified weaknesses in this period.. . We need more consistent types of players like Australians because tried and tested players achieve consitstent wins and invincible teams.We need such teams rather than unpredictable teams.

Posted by MunafAhmed811 on (September 4, 2012, 14:18 GMT)

Imran khan picked up two players only who went on to be legends. Akram and Inzi. He also backed Wasti , Basit ali ( called him better than 10 dulkar), Sami , Kaneria and few others.Most of them failed miserably. Knowledgable gamblers luck works at times but also fails. So his formula was not always succesful. It was more of hit and miss kind of talent hunting like Afrdi's batting who scored a couple of fluke but quick 100s and became branded allrounder which he is not.Also in case of Pakistan they hardly had any first class domestic structure worthy of churning out players of class so he had to adopt this gamble kind of selection policy which worked as his luck was good at times. If Indian selectors make same mistake then all other players will treat Ranji as irreelant to selction chances. One thing to agree is captain should support selectors choice and give ample chances to selected person to fail or pass. Thats only part i agree.

Posted by satish619chandar on (September 4, 2012, 10:10 GMT)

Well. There are two sorts of working styles. First, Pick based on talent and blood them by giving full support. Second, pick guys with good work ethics and give them the reward for their hard work. Ganguly is first type and Dhoni the second type. The guys in Yuvi, Bhajji, Zak were very unfit during end tenure of Dada but still, didn't opt for talent hunt in that period. Dada did back some players even when they failed but others just went out without any chance to fail also. But Dhoni gives platform for every player he comes across to judge them. I still can't digest that Akash Chopra was dropped for Yuvi to be tried as opener. And he never came back.

Posted by rosh280 on (September 4, 2012, 10:08 GMT)

Sanjay majrekar has really made a positive remark. I really appreciate his points but there are plenty of young talents are there. They have to be nurtured and should be given positive remarks of their performance. Old players like sanjay, kapil,rahul dravid, srikant can give them training and positive tips. There are a lot of talents to watch for like ashok menaria, mandeep singh, jalaj saxena, ishant jaggi, ajinka rahane, pinal shah, naman ojha, yogesh nagar, abhinav mukund, murali vijay, pradeep sangwan, gurkeerat singh. still there are chances for unmukt chand for tendulkar spot, cheteswar pujara for rahul dravid.murali vijay and ajinka rahane should be a great opening pair. baba aparajit is really a good alrounder. he should get some tips from anil kumble and venkatapati raju and maninder singh. so like harmeet singh also. k p apanna is another good spinner to watch for. for fast bowling prashant parameswaran, sree shant, balaji, sandeep sharma,ravikant and kamal passi get chance

Posted by Percy_Fender on (September 4, 2012, 8:23 GMT)

Having seen his father Vijay at the Brabourne Stadium in the 50s, and being a great admirer,I was very keen to see how his son Sanjay does.I followed his career from the the mid 80s and was very heartened when he was doing excellently in the domestic circuit. Sanjay was a typical Bombay product. Technically a purist's delight who also had the capacity for big scores.So I went to Kotla in the winter of 1987 when India was playing West Indies to see Sanjay's baptism by the usual West Indian fire.It was a mess.Winston Benjamin proved the villian of the piece when he knocked.Sanjay on the eye and he took no further part in the match.So it was not a very good visit for me to the Kotla.After that I saw him play against South Africa at Nehru Stadium New Delhi in a ODI.By then he had made a big name for himself on the 89 Pakistan tour.Impeccably dressed as always he played an innings in which he would just caress the ball.The square cut was noiseless.I wonder why he left early.He was very good

Posted by   on (September 4, 2012, 7:05 GMT)

I agree with most of your points but my issue is not about making a popular selection but making an unpopular omission in the larger interest of the team. Even if you make a bold decision about selecting someone like Unmukt Chand, what about biting the bullet and making an unpopular but undoubtedly good decision of dropping Sachin Tendulkar. It's not enough to just pick the right players but it is also about weeding out the deadbeat like Tendulkar, who is clearly well past his sell by date.

Posted by SanjeevHN on (September 3, 2012, 17:19 GMT)

I do agree with Sanjay. These three looked whole lot better. Morea bout Smit Patel. He is playing those hook and oull shots and thats makes him even more special. We have to start looking for another wicketkeeper batsman as Dinesh Kartik and Wriddhiman Saha are not doing that well at test arena.

And also on Spinners and I mean wrist spinners, not too many these days. Develop some wrist spinners and give them backing.

Genuine fast bowlers, Opening batsman not converted and wrist spinners are needed for the test

Posted by Percy_Fender on (September 3, 2012, 15:59 GMT)

Sanjay Manjrekar, Anil Kumble,Rahul Dravid , Saurav Ganguly and Ravi Shastri could make an excellent team for talent scouting. All of them have played at the highest level and more importantly have done exceptionally well. They should concentrate on East,North,West, South and Central Zones respectively. I am sure the BCCI can pay them more than what they earn as media representatives etc.

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