Youth cricket in the USA

Junior cricket - 25 overs, or Twenty20

Deb K Das

July 10, 2008

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By all accounts, junior cricket is expanding worldwide at a phenomenal rate - about four times as fast as world cricket as a whole. Cricket academies are sprouting all over the landscape in major (Test-playing) countries, as well as some minor ones. In India and Pakistan, inspired by the hit movie "Lagaan", villagers are switching from their traditional gilly-danda to the more contemporary bat-and-ball sport of cricket, and worldwide cricket coverage via broadcast TV is supporting their aspirations for better things.

Most cricket experts in the USA would agree that the 25-over format is the best one for junior cricketers. In their view there is simply too much hoopla and tamasha associated with the Twenty20 format, too many firecrackers, too much raucous music and hijinks at high decibel counts, even imported cheerleaders from the USA, for vulnerable minds not to be stretched to their breaking points. Better, they say, to go with a twenty-five over format, with smaller but more attentive crowds, under quieter skies and on well-manicured turf pitches, which is more like - well, cricket as it should, indeed must, be played.

But first, some context - and some definitions.

The term "junior cricketer" is usually applied to players under 15, who have been receiving intensive coaching and training since age 5. They typically play full seasons of cricket, matching the schedules of senior cricket leagues in their area - intensive practice at least three times a week after school, followed by matches where team members are rotated so each player learns the capabilities of every other player on the academy's roster. Careful stats are maintained on each player's match performances, and these are reviewed by selectors when it comes time to pick a side for an international ODI match. Controversies do occasionally arise over selections, but these are resolved with pencil and paper - rather than with fisticuffs, as sometimes happens in US Little League baseball.

The composition of a typical junior squad is also different from their senior equivalents. In addition to a coach, manager and physio, there is a team "mom" who takes care of feeding, clothing and administering TLC to heartbroken kids whose match performance failed to rise to their own expectations. This leads to some odd situations, like the team mom who refused to let her team take the field until all players were properly dressed, and was heard bellowing from the sidelines to have her players tuck their shirts in before play could commence.

So, how good are these well-trained kids against their international opponents? The stats tell the story. In the last ten months, they have not lost a single match against any team except (who else) the Australian U-15s, who are arguably the best U-15 team in the world today, bar none. Even there, the two-match series was a thriller; losing their first match by one wicket, Team USA recovered to take the second match by two wickets. The Aussies were so impressed that they promised to return the following year, and were even talking about a bilateral series to be played alternately in Australia and the USA.

Whether this will actually happen remains to be seen, but the point is made - 50-over cricket is here to stay, and the California Cricket Academy which pioneered the concept deserves full credit for that singular accomplishment.

Deb K Das is Cricinfo's correspondent in the USA

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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