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The Heavy Ball

Let's give mediocrity its due

It's time the ICC organised tournaments where players like Sanjay Bangar, Matthew Bell and Owais Shah can compete without the fear of being totally outplayed

Owais Shah sweats it at practice, Seddon Park, February 11, 2008

Even he deserves a chance, wouldn't you say?  •  Getty Images

I stopped watching the India-Bangladesh Test series when, to mark the occasion of Sachin Tendulkar's 45th Test century, Sunil Gavaskar reminded the viewers that "a hundred is a hundred". Just in case we mistook it for a compact, well-made 37. That was the last straw - one so heavy it would have broken the back of a real camel, never mind the proverbial ones.
Switching to the ongoing Under-19 World Cup was rewarding in many ways. Not the least of which was watching so many talented young cricketers who just might go on to become cricket's superstars, giving me the smug satisfaction of winning the many inevitable future beer-fuelled arguments about their merits (or lack thereof) by saying "Shut up! I've watched him since he was just a teenager." Hah. Nothing beats sheer experience. Not knowledge. Not cleverness. Not logic. Nothing.
The age-group tournaments have given us so many present-day superstars (Chris Gayle, Graeme Smith, Yuvraj Singh, Michael Clarke) that their utility becomes obvious. U-19 or U-22 players are often too young to be thrust into the cauldron of international cricket, and these tournaments serve as proving grounds where they can hone and improve their skills to ready themselves for the highest levels of the game.
Well, that certainly takes care of players who are too young for top-flight cricket, but that leads us to another question - what about the ones that are too mediocre?
Surely if Virat Kohli, Wayne Parnell and Umar Akmal can graduate through age-group tournaments and finally prove themselves good enough for full internationals, we could have found some way to help average, ordinary players such as Jacob Martin, Dermot Reeve and Dewald Pretorius make the grade, instead of losing them forever to their own limitations?
Which is why I propose a set of "average-group" tournaments, along the lines of age-group tournaments, to help thoroughly mediocre players make that all-important leap to becoming truly world-class. Like how an U-19 tournament is restricted to players under the age of 19, an "under 32.4" tournament would be restricted to players with a batting average lower than 32.4. Imagine what this would do for players like Matthew Bell, Sanjay Bangar or Owais Shah. They could spend their formative (in terms of general cricketing ability) years playing among cricketers who were more or less at the same level - instead of being made to look foolish in the company of those of clearly superior ability, such as Stephen Fleming, Rahul Dravid or Kevin Pietersen - enabling them to finally improve their skills and earn their places in their respective national sides.
Playing these guys at the highest levels before they are ready only serves to demoralise them and then they disappear forever, a permanent loss to cricket fans. Like what happened to Atul Bedade. And, unlike those that are too young, those that are merely too crap don't have time on their side to help them make a comeback. It's unfair.
The ICC really should do something for these guys. Organise some tournaments where players' (and teams') limitations and lack of skill won't be handicaps. Such as "under-120kph" tournaments for bowlers of less-than-express pace, "get-200-runs-free-if-you-collapse-for-less-than-150" tournaments for Pakistan, and "lbw-if-it-merely-hits-the-pads" tournaments for Harbhajan Singh.
For cricket to thrive, mediocrity should be nurtured. Without the suckage of Suruj Ragoonath, would we be truly appreciate the genius of Brian Lara? If every player batted like Sachin Tendulkar, then Tendulkar wouldn't be so special, would he?
Bring it on. Let's have a "no-variations Premier League" for spinners who can only take wickets through divine intervention. Pat Symcox can be the commissioner.

Anand Ramachandran is a writer and humourist based in Mumbai. He blogs at bosey.co.in