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More tours for the A team

Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli put on 209, a new Indian record for the third wicket AFP

Did India's loss against Zimbabwe in the opening match of the ongoing tri-series hurt you? While a few people might argue that it didn't matter because it wasn't our full-strength side anyway, the rest are bound to feel a little deflated.

Wonder why we didn't field our best side? Well, the reasons are simple. This series was not considered important enough, which I too think it isn't. There's a gruelling international season lying ahead, and this is the only possible window to rest our key players. Fair enough.

But are the viewers too demanding in expecting the Indian team to win all the time? Perhaps, yes. While it isn't possible to win on every occasion, the least a fan can expect, and a team can do is to give itself the best chance to win. After all, the spectators are the real stakeholders of the game and have every right to feel cheated.

For me, the upshot of these matches isn't going to be of much consequence. It is unreasonable to expect of a string B team to win you every single outing. The focus should be more on testing and watching the younger brigade performing at the highest level, especially ones who've proved their mettle in domestic cricket and the IPL.

Obviously, there's a glaring difference in the standard of our domestic cricket and international cricket. With two consecutive World Twenty20 debacles, we now know for sure that even the performances in the IPL aren't the best yardstick to judge a player.

So, what's the best way to know whether a player is ready for the highest level or not? Should we have more 'not-so-important series' on a regular basis, in which we rest our seniors and try out youngsters? My answer to this question would be a resounding no. Every India cap must be earned and handing it out so cheaply would only devalue its importance.

The answer to this puzzle is to have more and more India 'A' tours. And we have to go only so far as Sri Lanka for inspiration. Sri Lanka is a small country with an even smaller cricket playing population. Their domestic structure is not even half as good as ours. Despite many such limitations, the Sri Lankans have always managed to not only put up a competitive team at the highest level but also produced some real greats in the game. The reason for their success and a healthy supply line is their A Team structure.

Sri Lanka A has always had an extremely busy calendar comprising as many as five international tours. Unlike India, which has a completely new team every time, the nucleus of their A side remains the same for a reasonable period. All their A team players have been contracted with the board too.

We have also managed to send a few A teams on tours in the last decade and the results have been quite encouraging. If Gambhir first impressed the selectors with his good showing in the Caribbean, Kohli came into the limelight after scoring heavily in Australia. I was also given a chance on the back of some good performances for India A. But the frequency of these tours is getting reduced with every passing year. Unfortunately we are giving more importance to Under-19 cricket which is obviously not paying dividends. How would you explain not even a single player from the India Under-19 teams which played in last World Cup making headlines in domestic cricket?

Perhaps it is time to move on from our obsession with age-group cricket to some serious cricket. The over importance and emphasis given to age group cricket is only encouraging players to forge their age and giving us a false belief that our youngsters are the best in the world.