Blood ‘em young. It’s a policy cricketing nations such as Australia, South Africa and Pakistan have effected to the maximum with telling results. Rarely India. When the country has shown courage, the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar have flourished. Then, such is the BCCI’s operational style, selections and omissions often defy logic and form. Now, here’s an occasion to overturn that attitude. The under-19 team’s World Cup win in Sri Lanka gives the senior selectors a wider talent pool to pick from-particularly after the flopshow by the Gandhis, Kanitkars and Dighes in Aussieland.
Mohammed Kaif, Reetinder Sodhi, Yuvaraj Singh, Shalabh Srivastava and the other youngsters showed in Sri Lanka what it takes to excel at the highest level-pluck, determination, confidence and self-belief. Against formidable teams like Australia and Sri Lanka, they played with purpose and spirit to notch up improbable wins. In sharp contrast to their seniors capitulating repeatedly Down Under, Kaif & Co cruised past all opposition-proving that Indians have it in them to overcome the world’s best. Their title triumph was creditable notwithstanding dark hints about some players being over-aged and the conditions favouring them. No wonder coach Roger Binny can’t stop praising his wards. He feels at least three of them-Kaif, Sodhi and Srivastava-can straightaway step into the senior team.
But will the selectors endorse this? The senior team has quite a few vacancies as the series against South Africa looms large: a solid opener, a dependable No. 6 batsman, a genuine all-rounder, a wicket-keeper who can bat, a young fast bowler and a good left-arm spinner. If their intent is to back promise, the five wise men should try out Ravneet Ricky, Kaif, Sodhi, Ajay Ratra, Srivastava and Anup Dave for those slots. Six of the juniors who played in Sri Lanka have received a call-up for the Challenger series, from which the Indian one-day squad is usually selected, starting February 10. "There’s no harm in giving them a chance," says former Indian batsman and Uttar Pradesh coach Yashpal Sharma. "They are all extraordinarily gifted." Some of the juniors, like Kaif and Sodhi, have records that would shame the credentials of a few who toured Down Under. What then do they need to get into the big league? "The telephone numbers and birth dates of Borde, Kapil and Tendulkar," feels Venkat Sundaram, former Indian manager and Delhi opener. "Merit alone won’t get them anywhere. That’s the way Indian cricket is structured at present." Still, will the selectors see reason? Kaif & Co are pushing hard to be acknowledged..