The BCCI’s Above-19 initiative can help in preserving young talent

Under-19 stars like Mandeep Singh have adjusted well, but not all players have a smooth transition to the higher level © IANS

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) recently announced an ’Above-19’ initiative to help players who have been lost in transit between Under-19 cricket and the senior level. Nishad Pai Vaidya writes why it is the need of the hour.

The Under-19 level is a productive cradle of young talent and is a prelude to numerous promising careers. The likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja and Cheteshwar Pujara to name a few, first caught the attention with consistent performances in that arena and seamlessly made a progression to the bigger league. However, not all Under-19 stars graduate to the higher grade with success, with  some even falling by the wayside. Which is why, the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) ‘Above-19’ initiative should be lauded and given support.

Deep Dasgupta, the former India wicket-keeper is going to guide this India Above-19 squad at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore. Under-19 stars — who have been lost in transit — would get the opportunity to resurrect their fledging careers. The BCCI is even planning a tournament for this set of players. As Cricket Association Bengal’s (CAB) joint secretary Subir Ganguly pointed out, “It’s an effort to groom the talented youngsters who seem to lose focus after crossing 19 years. The tournament is likely to be held in August.”

‘Focus’ is a very important mooting point here as it separates the successful players from those who wither away. For any tyro, making a transition from the Under-19 level to a higher grade can be a difficult and an intimidating experience. The pressure of senior cricket can be quite unnerving and could serve as a major eye-opener. Sometimes, success at the junior level can create a rosy picture and they might expect easy returns as they progress higher. But, the reality is contrasting. Blending into the domestic system and then eying international cricket is no easy task.

Talking of focus, Pujara is a great example of someone who has risen above these challenges. His knack of scoring big caught the eye in Under-19 cricket and he first carried that into domestic cricket, then Tests. In an interview with this writer last year, Pujara spoke about the importance of that platform and had a simple explanation for translating potential into runs. He said, “Winning the Man-of-the-Series award at the 2006 Under-19 World Cup put me in the limelight. What it majorly did was that it gave me the confidence that I if I could do it at the Under-19 level, I could do it at the international level as well. Ultimately, you have to play the game of cricket. If you start well at a young age, then you have a good chance of doing well at the international level as well.’’ It is his unfailing temperament that has allowed him to blossom into a good Test player, but not many share similar characteristics.

In the modern era, managing these young players is pivotal especially when one considers the emergence of T20 tournaments such as the Indian Premier League (IPL). The glitz, glamour and some other unwanted elements can be distracting and they need a system to help them channelize their attention. It can affect their game plans as they would be too eager to impress and make a mark. As a result, they may buckle under the pressure and end up under-performing.

Mandeep Singh, a success story in Under-19 cricket, didn’t find it easy when he made his IPL debut. He told this writer in an interview last year, ‘’ When I played in the 2010 season (IPL), I think I was in a hurry to do things. I didn’t play to my strengths and I didn’t have a game plan as such. I took too much of the pressure as I thought it was the IPL T20, everybody is watching and I must hit.”

The Punjab youngster worked upon his game plan and altered his strategy. In the 2012 season, he won the Rising Star of the tournament award and then went on to perform well for India A on the tour to New Zealand. Today, he has not only done well in T20 cricket, but is also a force to reckon with on the domestic First-Class scene. However, not all players have the temperament to handle the initial failure and bounce back. Which is why, guidance and proper player management is the need of the hour.

Ultimately, the genuinely talented players do emerge on top and wade through all the difficulties. However, the others can get a new lease of life through an initiative like the Above-19. It is imperative that the BCCI prevents some genuine talent from fading away from the scene. It is a pity that some are lost to systemic pressures and the incidental snags.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)