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Young-err league
Hindustan Times
New Delhi, March 27, 2012
First Published: 23:44 IST(27/3/2012)
Last Updated: 01:55 IST(28/3/2012)
Praveen Kumar has been included in the squad to strengthen pace attack of the team. (Reuters)

It is perhaps fitting that a phrase that so aptly describes the shortest and glitziest format of the game has its origins in a genre of music known as glam rock.

Of course, back when David Bowie wrote 'wham bam, thank you ma'am', Twenty20 was nowhere on the horizon. Even the inaugural cricket World Cup was a couple of years away; the seeds of Kerry Packer's coup, though, were in the process of being sowed.

That the Indian Premier League was essentially a reaction to India's version of World Series Cricket, the lovechild of Packer and prime time television programming, is a fact that need not be reiterated.

What needs to be questioned, though, is its initial premise, that of revitalising Indian cricket by providing youngsters with big-match exposure and, in turn, creating a talent pool that could be tapped into for the country's international gains.

Limited benefits
Barring the odd contribution to India's ODI team, the annual two-month long carnival, in which matches get wrapped up within three hours but parties go on through the night, has failed to produce a steady stream of quality cricketers who can last the distance, at least in the most gruelling format of the game. Worse, it has sounded the death knell for the careers of many promising juniors who hopped aboard the gravy train.

Says one such player on condition of anonymity: "Looking back, I now realise how much I lost in those two months (of the IPL). Being the centre of attention and living in five-star hotels was way too much for me. I got into boozing and partying, and was also majorly distracted by the girls. I could not give up on that lifestyle, and that eventually cost me a place in my state team."

The good life aside, there's a growing concern over the adverse impact playing the slam-bang version of cricket at such young ages has on the technical abilities of juniors. It is something that prompted the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) to take a landmark stand in January this year, the state virtually barred any of its registered players under the age of 21 from playing in T20 tournaments, including the IPL.

While not meddling with existing IPL contracts, the PCA will not be issuing fresh NOCs to its juniors till they attain what the association believes is an optimal age. Secretary, MP Pandove, is of the opinion that "17 to 21 are formative years for the players, which is when they need to work on their game by developing good technique and stamina. Their priorities get mixed up by playing T20."

Mentioning that Punjab have lost some of their talented players to T20, Pandove says that "they lost focus, which is why they are no longer in the squad. So, this (decision to not issue NOCs) was necessary to safeguard the local talent pool."

Shaky foundation
It's not just the stray case of a state association being miffed at potential Ranji talent abandoning them to chase the twin carrots of fame and fortune dangled by the IPL. Many coaches and former players from across the country are convinced that by concentrating on the IPL, youngsters forgo the fundamentals of the game.

Former India skipper and chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar feels that "no under-16 player should be allowed to play T20. While batsmen suffer as their shot-making ability isn't groomed, players in general don't develop their temperament, mental toughness and concentration".

Internationally, T20 continues to act as a leisurely reprieve between the two business halves of any tour - the Tests and ODIs. Test cricket still hinges on the capability of a team to bowl the opposition out twice.

Perhaps that's why Rajinder Goel, the former left-arm spinner from Haryana who holds the record for most wickets in Ranji Trophy, laments that "bowlers have no role to play in the condensed format", while lambasting the young batsmen for playing "horrible shots like reverse hits and upper cuts. All the boys get out of this (IPL) is the money".

Uttar Pradesh coach Gyanendra Pandey concurs: "The monetary aspect, as well as the fact that they are playing at the highest level alongside seniors from all over the world, are the only positives for juniors. If you ask me, no one under the age of 19 should play T20."

Citing the examples of UP players Suresh Raina, RP Singh and Praveen Kumar, who started off with the longer versions during their junior days, Pandey feels that "at such an age, one should focus on building a strong foundation, so that one can later adapt to any format".

Others feel adaptation is often just a mindset. Former India opener and Bengal coach WV Raman speaks of "the need for an individual to focus on improving and developing skills that suit the longer version", while mentioning "(Ravichandran) Ashwin and (Virat) Kohli, who have played the format exceptionally well and still measured up to duration cricket later."

What about T20's impact on a junior's technique? "Of course, it's preferable that these young guys don't get thrown into T20 too much, as it can prevent them from working on their skills," says Raman. "But a lot depends on the individual, his hunger to achieve in the ultimate format - Tests - and whether he's willing to work hard. Look at Sachin Tendulkar - even after 22 years of achieving at the highest level, he's still striving to improve. I think everybody should learn from that."

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