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Over-age issue: Everyone knows, no one acts

india Updated: Sep 27, 2011 00:40 IST
Aakash Chopra

Ankit Bawne, named India's under-19 skipper, was dropped from the squad because the date of birth he had provided to the BCCI and the one on his passport did not match. He said the agent had goofed up while submitting details to the passport office, which may or may not be true. But instead of crucifying him, I'd address the mess Indian cricket has repeatedly found itself in - players forging their age. Unfortunately, this malpractice isn't restricted to a selected few or a couple of states. It is widespread. The reason for tinkering with one's age is to remain eligible for age-group tournaments for a few more years (albeit illegally), which is considered to be the steppingstone to bigger things in cricket.

I distinctly remember an under-16 match against Punjab in which one of the bowlers had a fully-grown beard. The player went on to play for India and that's when I got to know that he was four years younger to me, which means that he was only 12 when I played against him in that under-16 match. Is it biologically possible to grow a beard at that age?

Indian cricket is littered with such incidents, which have sadly gone unnoticed for way too long. Co-players would always know who among them was fudging age - it has been an open secret.

Changing times
Yet, the people who mattered didn't do much to tame the monster. Fortunately, the times are changing and a lot of state associations have started conducting various medical tests including the DNA test to ascertain a player's age before selecting him to represent the state. While it's a step in the right direction, we must also address the root cause of such malpractice.

Age-group tournaments, especially the under-19 level, have been given far too much importance. Representing India Under-19 is a shortcut to fame --- a seat in the IPL teams and a real opportunity to make an entry into the Indian dressing room. One good performance at the Under-19 World Cup (which happens every alternate year) announces a player's arrival on the big stage. Since so much is riding on representing these age-group tournaments, it's only logical to assume that a few more years in the circuit would enhance your chances. Also, if you play against players considerably younger than you, the chances of succeeding also increase.

The remedy
The only way to deal with this menace is to treat age-group tournaments as they should be treated i.e. only to gauge a player's temperament and potential. Even if someone does ever so well at under-19 level, there's no harm in asking him to spend at least a year in first-class circuit. Yes, it may mean delaying a player's promotion to the highest level by a year, but we'd rather have players lose a year here and there than losing an entire generation of cricketers to unfair practices.