While the senior cricketers are almost keeling over due to a packed international calendar, India’s GenNext has gone without meaningful competition for almost 17 months now.
The national junior team last played an international match on February 27, 2014, against West Indies in the fifth place playoff of the Under-19 World Cup in Sharjah. The last time the U-19 team went without match practice for this long was more than two decades ago — they didn’t play an international between January 30, 1990 and March 3, 1992.
The ramification of this barren spell caused by a lack of planning by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) could be felt six months from now, in the 2016 U-19 World Cup, which starts in Bangladesh on January 22. And if the Board doesn’t act fast, there could be a situation where India reach Bangladesh with little or no international exposure.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has a Future Tours Programme (FTP) that acts as a basic international calendar for senior teams. Since there is no such provision for the juniors, it’s the respective board’s prerogative to arrange tours. The BCCI however is yet to officially announce any such tournament in the next five months.
According to an official in charge of U-19 cricket, there is a proposal to play a tri-series in September but the BCCI has still not okayed it. The junior cricket committee, convened by BCCI joint-secretary Amitabh Choudhary, decides on these tours.
“A proposal has been sent for playing a triangular series in Sri Lanka. England could be the third team. But the board is yet to confirm that. We could also tour a country (for a bilateral series) but nothing has been finalised yet,” said the official on condition of anonymity. Asked why India have gone so long without any international cricket, the official only said: “We played a lot of one-dayers before the 2014 World Cup. Hopefully something will be firmed up soon.”
The U-19 calendar isn’t the busiest but countries like Australia, England, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have showed initiative by arranging quite a few matches after the 2014 World Cup.
For now, the junior selectors plan to pick the World Cup probables on the basis of their domestic performances and a camp at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) that ended last week. “We had a camp of 25 players that was attended by U-19 coach Rahul Dravid. He was happy with the quality of players. The camp should provide the main pool from which the Cup squad can be selected,” said the official. “The Vinoo Mankad Trophy, the zonal one-dayers and the Ranji Trophy will also give a good idea about a few players, who could be picked on the basis of those performances.”
The normal practice is that once the players are selected, they play at least a few international matches that helps to see if they are cut out for that level.
But while the BCCI has been proactive in arranging ‘A’ tour matches against South Africa and Australia in August, it remains to be seen if it shows the same enthusiasm for the U-19 team which plays a World Cup in six months.