BY YAJURVINDRA SINGH
India versus Bangladesh Test match at Eden Garden, Kolkata, their first-ever Day/ Night encounter has been an overwhelming success. The match has a historical significance to it and for a cricket-loving enthusiast a “moment in time”. The ball that one identified as a ‘cherry’ for its redness has now changed over to a ‘strawberry’.
The phrase ‘in the pink of health’ may convey good health, but the pink ball is still in a stage of getting total acceptability. The colour pink is very much the fashion among the young millennials of today and so for Test cricket, modernising it, to suit the young followers of the game, is essential to its progress.
Tennis at Wimbledon has managed to keep the purity of the colour white and one hopes Test cricket follows in the same way at least as regards the attire. After all, tradition does have an important part to play in bridging the past to the present. The emergence of a young cricketer at the international level always brings joy and excitement to cricket enthusiasts. The 16-year-old youngster from Pakistan, Naseem Shah, having made his debut during the first Test match in Australia, has done just that.
Becoming the youngest cricketer ever to play the game is truly amazing. This raw talented right-hand fast bowler has a beautiful easy flowing action and his pace is already a threat to a batsman. With age and modern facilities of toning one’s physique and following a well-structured fitness regime, Naseem may just be the bowler to break the 100 mph barrier. A milestone achieved by just a few after the introduction of the speed gun. Pakistan has an unpolished gem in their midst, similar to when the young Wasim Akram took to the field.
World cricket is being flooded with cricketers in their teens. The game is gradually moving rapidly towards the younger lot. One can attribute this to the worldwide coverage of the sport on television and recently on the mobile as well. Young cricketers seem to have far more maturity and focus than before because of the access to cricket all throughout the year. The huge amount of runs scored by schoolboys and the way the game is being played at that level has characterised cricket as a profession rather than just a fun sport.
Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli were two school cricketers who shone brilliantly at the schoolboy level to achieve the distinction of playing successfully for their country. Sachin at the age of 16, made his Test debut and he never looked back since then. The last to emulate him has been Prithvi Shaw. His appetite for runs was identified at a very young age and the pleasure that he gave when he scored a century against the West Indies on debut was truly amazing. A small hic-up in his career has put him in the sidelines but with age on his side, one expects him to come back to a flourishing career.
Cricket is full of such tales of young geniuses making it to the top grade. Mushtaq Mohammed, the famous Pakistan Test player and brother of Hanif Mohammed, became a sensational star when at the age of 17 years and 78 days in 1961 he played against India in Delhi and hence became the youngest cricketer to score a hundred in Test cricket. This record was only surpassed 50 years later by Mohammad Ashraful from Bangladesh. In the earlier days of cricket, in India, there were several schoolboy cricketers making a debut for their state teams in the Ranji Trophy. The two great left-arm spin bowlers and all-rounders from Saurashtra, Vinoo Mankad and Salim Durani, were schoolboys who were put into the big league and they went on to play top level cricket for many years.
The reason that the tale of young schoolboy cricketers diminished until the onset of Sachin Tendulkar was because of the structure and protocol that was followed by Indian cricket. One had to first establish oneself in the state and zonal side before being considered for a Test cap. University cricket was the only way to bypass it for which one had to perform brilliantly against a mighty visiting Test side. The steps to play for the country was quite straight-forward but difficult for a player. Plenty of runs in the Ranji Trophy, a place, thereafter, in the respective zonal side and with success in the Duleep Trophy, a final look-in through the Rest of India in the Irani Trophy was the framework which was considered. A failure in any of these matches was a disaster for the cricketer as one had to wait, thereafter, for the next season to showcase ones credentials.
This has gradually, in the last few decades, given way to the U-14, U-16 and U-19 cricket. The new structure is the sole reason that a young cricketer gets the platform to rise and shine. This has created an additional opportunity for a young cricketer, as if he has missed out on establishing himself in the earlier age groups, he still has the domestic first-class cricket and the U-23 to make an impact.
The wonderful situation for a cricketer in India is that during his playing days, he is earning a fair amount of money, even in domestic cricket, to enable him pursue his dreams. There will be younger and younger cricketers knocking on the doors of making it to the Indian team. There will be frustration and disappointment of course as after all only 11 players can make the playing XI. The competition is immense amongst the established cricketers and the others waiting to make a mark.
Cricket is now at a stage comprising of the young and the experienced. At present, the latter still have the edge. But time will tell who wins the battle in the future. Till then let us enjoy the brigade of young daring and dashing geniuses who will keep our appetite intact.