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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Sep 2014

Cricket

A wasteland for the young and restless
Kaushik Chatterji, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, April 28, 2013
First Published: 00:55 IST(28/4/2013)
Last Updated: 13:57 IST(28/4/2013)

April is the cruellest month, said a famous poet. Unmukt Chand would agree.

Two years ago, his debut ended in disaster; his stumps, courtesy a certain Lasith Malinga, left in disarray.

Last year, he warmed the bench, only getting a consolatory couple at the fag end of the season.

This year was supposed to be different though, what with him having led from the front in India's under-19 World Cup triumph Down Under.

But it did not take long for Chand's star to set - two hours and eight minutes after the sun went down, to be precise.

Granted, the opening delivery of the sixth edition was no loosener. But Brett Lee's peach was just the start - Chand went on to lose his stumps to Sreesanth and garnered another golden duck, this time falling to Harbhajan Singh.

Heady mix
Of course, the obstacles are not always on the field. A youngster from Punjab, on condition of anonymity, had admitted that "being the centre of attention and living in five-star hotels was way too much for me. Besides the booze and the parties, I was also distracted by the girls."

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The glam has relegated him to the bench of his T20 franchise.

But more crucially, that lifestyle cost him a place in his state's Ranji side.

That he is not an exception has caused the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) considerable heartburn ever since the inception of the league.

"Once the players went for T20, they lost their focus," said PCA secretary MP Pandove, whose association, having lost out on potential performers, introduced safeguards - banning their players up to a certain age from the league.

Age bar
Last year, that age was 22. But then, two things happened - Mandeep Singh, the only "underage" player in the Kings XI Punjab squad, topped the runs chart for his team.

More importantly, the U-19 team lifted the World Cup. The result? The age of allowance was brought down to 20.

But Pandove says the real reason for reducing it was something else: "The BCCI retained the U-19 age group but replaced the U-22 team with U-25, and we felt that six years is too large a gap."

The two young players drafted in by KXIP - Manan Vohra and Sandeep Sharma - are both below 20, but exceptions were made since both, having represented India in the age group, have "attained a certain level of maturity".

"Once players have strong fundamentals, they can improvise," said Pandove. "But the reverse isn't true."

Winners all
Sandeep, along with Chand, played a starring role in the U-19 World Cup final; a pre-tournament finger fracture meant Vohra was out and Hanuma Vihari was in.

This league season, Sandeep is yet to get a start; on the other hand, Vohra and Sunrisers' Vihari have featured in each of their team's matches.

Between them, they have three match-winning (but not entirely convincing) forties in 17 innings, plus a first-ball dismissal of Chris Gayle.

And while that is a memory Vihari will cherish for the rest of his life, rubbing shoulders with the best in the business in front of packed houses is intimidating, even if you are mature beyond your years.


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