International cricket is perhaps at its competitive best these days. Australia has set the high standards and the rest are catching up with them. Many a country has put faith in a system that nurtures the youth and brings to fore the best of the talent. A few of the countries have been apprehensive about blooding the youth and are struggling to live up to their glories of the past.
There is nothing magical in what the Aussies have achieved over the years. They reposed faith in a system of encouraging young talent and made sure that they had a bank of youngsters ready to burst into the side and do the job. The bench strength of their side is remarkable; a player of Mark Waugh's talent had to wait for a few years before he could make his debut at the highest level.
The Commonwealth Bank Cricket Academy in Adelaide with the legendary Aussie wicket-keeper Rodney Marsh as the head coach is the nursery of Australian cricket. So many players have come through the system, and these include present stars like Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting.
India too have taken a leaf out of the Australian scheme; there is a National Cricket Academy based in Bangalore that carefully grooms the young cricketers to play for the national side in the future. The Border-Gavaskar Scholarship was constituted to enable three players from the NCA to go down under and have a six-week training at the Adelaide cricket academy.
This year the NCA decided to award the scholarship to Deepak Chougule, Vinayak Mane and Parthiv Patel. Nineteen-year-old Mane is the only player to have had some first class experience, having played as an opening batsman for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy last season. Seventeenyear-old Chougule from Karnataka and sixteen-year-old Patel, wicketkeeper/opening batsman from Gujarat are bound to make their first class debut this season.
CricInfo caught up with the three young players in Bangalore in an effort to understand what the six-week training programme in Australia has done to them. The players were thrilled about their experience. They paid rich tributes to Rod Marsh and Wayne Phillips for helping them out with new things. The best was saved for Ian Chappell who spent a week at the academy, teaching the wards how to deal with pressure situations. Chappell's focus was on how these young men should deal with the media and the intrusive bookies etc. The lectures on public speaking and personality development have made them more confident as individuals.
Mane is a player with a sound technique and determination. His batting skills came to the fore during the Under-19 `Test' series against the English Colts last season as he smashed a double hundred at Chepauk after India were asked to follow on. Look no further; he is from the school of Ramakant Achrekar who is the guru of Sachin Tendulkar. It is just a matter of time that he finds his way into the national side and the young man said, "It is an honour to play for India, it is every cricketer's dream. I have worked hard on improving my skills and technique at the NCA. I have trained hard and I am prepared for the big time."
Talking about his experience at the Australian Academy, Mane said, "the Aussies are quite good, they are physically and mentally very tough in their approach. They do not think too much about their technique, they just play their natural aggressive game". Mane loves to go for his shots and he plays the horizontal bat shot with much élan. People who have seen him bat at the Wankhede Stadium would have witnessed the hook shots disappearing in the stands.
Chougule holds the unique junior world record of scoring the maximum number of runs scored in a day; an unbeaten 400 against Goa in a Under-13 inter-state match. He thinks that the facilities at the NCA and in Australia are more or less the same, the only difference being that they are more organized in Australia. He said, "They taught us a lot about strategy and planning. There was a lot of emphasis on how to deal with short-pitched bowling. We were taught how to play aggressively against short-pitched bowling, how to play the cut, pull and hook properly. To play the cut short hard and the importance of timing the pull shot.
"You have to score runs and not get bogged down by the short pitched bowling. Even if the fielders are placed for that kind of bowling, we were taught how important it is to keep scoring runs. Even if it is the first ball you face, do not fear to punish the loose ball. It is all about playing cricket positively." Chougule found it a bit difficult to understand his Aussie mates in the camp. "We got along with them as we started communicating better. They work very hard and they made it a point to push us harder," said Chougule about his time in the Australian Academy.
Patel is the youngest of the lot. Make no mistake; his hero is none other than Adam Gilchrist. Patel led India Under-17 to Asia Cup glory at Dhaka earlier this year. He cherishes the time he spent with the legend, Rod Marsh. "Marsh taught me the importance of fast footwork and has given me some drills to go through. Unlike in India where keepers are taught to gather the ball with the body right behind it, Marsh taught me to take the ball on either side the body so that you can cover till first slip, which allows the slips to be wider and cover more area."
Talking about his batting, Patel said, "Marsh and Wayne Phillips helped me change the stance a little and I could see the ball with both the eyes. I was taught to keep the square cut down. There were many lessons on how to deal with the short-pitched deliveries. Even if you are playing a defensive shot, you have to play with soft hands by which you can take singles."
All the three young players have learnt a lot in the six-week period of training in Adelaide. It augurs well for the future of Indian cricket. The bench strength will become more visible in a few years from now. The earnest start will pay rich dividends in the long run. The three young men might one day represent the new face of Indian cricket.