Revamp for age-group and school cricket January 1, 2008

BCCI restructures youth set-up

The BCCI's plans are all about trying to nurture the next set of Indian stars to follow the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni © Getty Images
The way young cricketers come through the ranks in Indian cricket is set to undergo a radical change with the Junior Cricket Committee making some strong recommendations that will put India more in line with the Australian way of running their feeder tournaments. The primary aim is to reduce the quantity of cricket played and put the accent on quality. The under-15 and under-17 grades of cricket will be done away with and a new under-16 age competition will be created. Further the under-22 concept will be done away with, and the team will play as an A side.

"The honorary secretary was of the opinion that the accent in age-group cricket was on quantity and as a result quality was suffering," a Board of Control for Cricket in India source revealed. "The total number of matches played in junior tournaments is very large and now with the addition of women's cricket there is over pressure on the grounds and wickets resulting in sub-standard playing conditions," the junior cricket committee concluded in its last meeting in Mumbai on December 24.

One of the primary concerns revolved around the utilisation of resources in each situation. With increasing pressure junior cricketers were not in a position to benefit from the facilities and infrastructure that was intended for them.

Keeping in mind these conditions the committee, after discussing "the matter threadbare," decided that state and national tournaments will be played at the under-16 level only. Matches within each zone will be played on a league basis and the top two teams will contest a knock-out tournament at the national level.

The age-group that remains untouched is the under-19, thanks primarily to the Cooch Behar Trophy, which remains a flagship competition. However, even this is set for a revamp. Currently, matches are allotted to a single venue in a zone and all states from that zone compete to make it to the next round. It has been decided that this tournament will be played on a home and away basis. Even when it comes to the under-19 limited overs tournaments the BCCI has decided that matches will be taken to different venues within a state rather than being restricted to the one big venue.

The under-22 inter state tournament will be converted to an A team format where each state can only field a maximum of three of its Ranji players in the side. This means that each state will be forced to use the under-22, or A competition to give young players coming through the ranks a chance to play competitive cricket at a level where the junior or national selectors are in attendance.

The other item the committee took up in earnest was the revival of inter-school cricket at the national level. At the moment the School Games Federation of India is in charge of conducting the state, zonal and nation schools tournaments. However they lack both the expertise and the financial clout to conduct the cricket tournament in a manner befitting the interest levels that the sport generates. Therefore it was decided that the BCCI would become actively involved in the running of a national schools tournament.

Two proposals were submitted in this regard. The first model suggested that each state "hold their inter-school tournament comprising a minimum of eight school teams. The top two teams from the zone would automatically qualify to play the all India knock-out tournament."

The second model proposes that each state pick a team of schoolboys, from various schools, to represent them. Each of these states will then play in an inter-zonal tournament and once more the top two sides from each zone will play in the national tournament. However, after discussion that focused mostly around how the states would actually pick the schoolboys team to represent them, this model was discarded. It was decided that the first model be adopted.

What this will do is ensure that each school had a sense of pride in its team and it will be possible to eventually identify a "National Cricket Champion School."

Anand Vasu is an associate editor at Cricinfo