Aakash Chopra

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Former India opener Aakash Chopra is one of the best thinkers and writers on the game. Find out more at www.cricketaakash.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @cricketaakash

The Scourge of Age-Fudging

 

Ankit Bawne, named India Under-19 skipper, was dropped from the squad. The date of birth he'd provided to the BCCI and the one on his passport did not match. He said the agent 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 select few or a couple of states. It is widespread. The reason for illegally tinkering with one's age is to remain eligible for age-group tournaments longer since they are the stepping-stone to bigger things in cricket.

 

The Bearded 12-Year-Old

 

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 he was 12 in that Under-16 match. Is it possible to grow a beard at that age?

 

A few years later I was up against another teen prodigy who smashed a double century in a Ranji Trophy game against Delhi. Officially, he was barely 16. He kept clearing the fence with consummate ease. Without taking anything away from him for scoring a double century in First Class cricket, his ability to hit sixes baffled all of us.

 

When I was playing Under-16 cricket, my coach had sent me back home to gain muscle and power, for I didn't have the strength to find the fence. In fact that's one of the reasons my coach made me an opener, for it was easier to hit boundaries by using the pace of the hard, new ball when the fast bowlers operating. And then there's this age-defying 16-year-old.

 

Address Root Causes

 

Indian cricket is littered with such incidents, which have sadly gone unnoticed too long. Players would always know who among them was fudging age - it has been an open secret. Yet the people who matter didn't do much to tame the monster.

 

Fortunately, the times are changing and a lot of state associations have started conducting medical tests, including DNA testing, to ascertain a player's age before selecting him. 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 ones, get undue importance. Representing India Under-19 is a shortcut to fame - a seat in the IPL teams and a real opportunity to make the Indian dressing room. One good performance at the Under-19 World Cup (which happens every alternate year) announces a player's arrival to the big stage.

 

Since so much rides on these age-group tournaments, it's 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 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 well at the Under-19 level, there's no harm in asking him to spend at least a year on the First Class circuit.

 

Yes, it may mean delaying a player's promotion, but we'd rather have players lose a year here and there than losing an entire generation of cricketers to unfair practices.

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