A surprise awaited India's under-19 cricketers as they touched down in Mumbai on Tuesday. Just two days after their triumph in the World Cup, their stupendous achievement has already been overshadowed by the talks about their future. Even as the team is busy relishing its feat, people have tied themselves in knots over trying to chart out a roadmap for this talented bunch.
Not many would identify with the situation more than Maninder Singh. The former left-arm spinner, who made his India debut as a precocious 17-year-old left arm spinner three decades back, strikes a note of caution. "I don't think fast-tracking an under-19 kid is a terribly bright idea, unless of course he's Sachin Tendulkar," said Maninder. "There's a huge gap between u-19 and international cricket, and a minimum of two first class seasons is a must, especially for batsmen and spinners, before someone is pushed into the deep end."
He laments that by giving them too early a push, India has not been able to make the most of the promise that many cricketers, including he himself, initially showed. "The careers of many, including mine, could have panned out quite differently had we gone through the grind of first-class cricket. The fast-forwarded kids generally haven't seen any ups-and-downs, and when they suffer setback at the top level, they don't know how to handle it," said Maninder.
Sanjay Manjrekar, though, offers a slightly different take. "Sometimes, a talented player gets lost in the grind of domestic cricket," he said. "So some exceptions could be made, but the selectors and the captain have to be on the same page on this. If they differ, the kid will suffer."
The IPL, perhaps the bigger talking point, also stirs up contrasting opinions. Sourav Ganguly finds it unfair to deny anyone a chance to play in it. "It's for the player to decide whether he wants to play in a particular format - nobody has the right to take that opportunity away from him."
"T20 is an important part of modern cricket. It adds another dimension to your game. We mustn't forget that Unmukt Chand hit seven sixes in his century in the final."
Maninder, however, thinks that the U-19 kids can afford to wait for a season or two. "Priorities can and do get mixed up. Sometimes the money and fame could keep the youngsters from working towards the India cap."
Ganguly, however, is steadfast. "If someone fails to make it to the top, someone else will."