India's latest U19 team selection - a true representation of how Indian cricket's future looks like

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India's latest U19 team selection - a true representation of how Indian cricket's future looks like

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Bastab K Parida

02/16/2019

On Tuesday night, the BCCI Junior Selection Committee picked an India U19 squad for the two four-day games against South Africa U19 and two more separate teams - India U19 A and India U19 B - to take part in a quadrangular series with South Africa U19 and Afghanistan U19.

Among all the players selected, six names are bound to catch the attention - Avneesh Sudha, Sumeet Juyal, Arya Sethi (all from Uttarakhand), Sabir Khan (from Bihar) and Rex Singh (from Manipur) were selected across three teams announced for the series and it couldn’t have been more pleasant. Their teams were participating on the domestic cricket for the first time (Bihar, however, had played long-time ago before the association was rebranded as Jharkhand State Cricket Association after the state division) and it is to the selector’s credit that they have hand-picked them straight to the junior national team. It was a surprise worth thousands of applause. 

For the longest time in India, cricket had always been the domain of few "privileged states", and until MS Dhoni’s arrival, it had never been a regular thing to see the cricketers from the far reaches of the country making it big in Indian cricket. The turn of the millennium changed the course of the way cricket was viewed by the young masses and small centres like Nagpur, Rajkot, Rajasthan, and Kerala, for that matter, have joined the feeder system to put the big centres’ hegemony in danger. The success story that was started 15 years ago had got the biggest boost in the last domestic season which gave Indian cricket another reason to celebrate.

The introduction of the North-East belt gave the domestic cricket season a structure usually reserved in football with proper promotion and relegation. Although it is still one tournament, there is a clear incentive in place, making the small teams push for the top honours, each and every time they come onto the field. Complemented by few of the seasoned professionals, the likes of Ashutosh Aman and Deepak Dhapola took Ranji Trophy by storm and made sure that the region has good enough players who can be influenced to pick up the sport.

However, more than anything, the selection of the above-mentioned five players will have more influence. When a young kid, or a parent, sees someone from their own state is representing the country, it is bound to have an effect and can lead to many parents allowing their kids to take up the sport seriously. For example, when Ranjib Biswal and Sritam Das made U19 Indian appearances in the late 1980s, many kids from Odisha started pursuing the sport and in a small window, Debasish Mohanty, Sanjay Raul, and Shiv Sundar Das went on to represent India at the highest level, with many played for the Board President’s XI, India U19 and India U17 teams. It took time, but it came eventually. The same can work for the Indian cricket’s new states and who knows, a kid from Manipur would play for India by being inspired by Rex Singh.

In cricket, nothing succeeds like success. People do look after their local heroes just like a certain Cheteshwar Pujara has had more impact on Saurashtra cricket than Sachin Tendulkar had ever had. If any of the players those cricketing backwaters can make it to at least the U19 World Cup team, then imagine, how many players he will bring into the system through that success. Make no mistake, as far as achievement goes, the success at the junior level is still a parameter as the high price of Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Shubman Gill, Prithvi Shaw in the last year’s IPL auction proved it.

Pakistan Cricket can act as a case study here. The country has always produced some fearsome fast bowlers who would come and take the world by storm before losing the way in the middle. Nurturing those players remained the key parameter, but the domestic structure in Pakistan is so unorganised that it has failed to achieve its primary objective and in the process, the talent gets wasted and a pool has not been able to put in place for far too long now. 

Same is not the case in India. It is a golden time to be an Indian cricketer. There is a big talent pool in place and thanks to the IPL, it has gone on to create a bench which can any day be as effective as the national team slated to make to the final 15 for the World Cup. With NorthEast, Bihar, Puducherry and Uttarakhand can aspire is adding to the numbers and not just filling it. It can help in maintaining the influx of good players before sending them to the highest level and also can create a culture of cricket where football and weightlifting have mostly been the primary attraction. At the same time, if North-East teams can come close to realise their dream of playing good cricket at the U19 and Ranji levels, it will truly help in the democratisation of the game in the country, and certainly, make the team much better. 

In that regard, a Rex Singh or a Sabir Khan or an Arya Sethi will help in big-time. How far they can go and if they can make the selection remains to be seen, but it is a wonderful step by the BCCI selectors to bring them to the mainstream cricket. Only good can come out of it. 

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