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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Indian women win Asia Cup ~ selectors fiasco in U19 selection !

Cricket is always entertaining ~ the younger, the more.  In University level, and at school level, it often boils down – some cheating with fake age certificates and older players playing U16 and other tournaments !

The inaugural event was titled the McDonald's Bicentennial Youth World Cup, and was held in 1988 as part of the Australian Bicentenary celebrations. The tournament was notable for the number of future international players who competed. Nasser Hussain; Mike Atherton; Venkatapathy Raju, Chris Cairns, Mushtaq Ahmed and Inzamam-ul-Haq; Sanath Jayasuriya, Brian Lara, Ridley Jacobs, Jimmy Adams – went on to represent their Nations.  

Way back in 2000, Sri Lanka hosted the ICC U19 WC for the first time.  It was the third edition of the Under-19 Cricket World Cup and the first to be held in Sri Lanka.  The Tourney was contested by sixteen teams, including three making their tournament debuts. After an initial group stage, the top eight teams played off in a super league to decide the tournament champions, with the non-qualifiers playing a separate "plate" competition. In the final, played at Colombo's Sinhalese Sports Club, India defeated Sri Lanka by six wickets. Both teams had made the final for the first time. Indian all-rounder Yuvraj Singh was named player of the tournament, while South Africa's Graeme Smith was the leading run-scorer and Pakistan's Zahid Saeed was the leading wicket-taker.  The other prominent players were Mohd Kaif, RS Sodhi, Ajay Ratra and Y Venugopala rao.

There are tournaments for the young in other sports as well.  FiFA U-17 World Cup is one, which interestingly was founded as the FIFA U-16 World Championship, later changed to its current name in 2007.  It was inspired by the Lion City Cup that was created by the Football Association of Singapore in 1977.  The first edition was staged in 1985 in China, and tournaments have been played every two years since then. Nigeria is the most successful nation in the tournament's history, with five titles and three runners up. Brazil is the second-most successful with three titles and two runners-up. Ghana and Mexico have won the tournament twice.

This year, a staggering 26 members of Nigeria's Under-17 side failed an age test carried out ahead of an African Cup of Nations qualifier. Reportedly a  mandatory Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) screening of the squad revealed almost half were ineligible to play. In 2015, the Golden Eaglets, as they are known, won the FIFA U17 World Cup in Chile for a record fifth time. Accusations of age cheating have blighted Nigeria's success at international age group tournaments in recent years.

Back to Cricket, this year in U19 World Cup, against Nepal,  Rishabh Pant had the fastest recorded U-19 international century comfortably in his sights when he was dismissed for 78 off 24 balls, having blown Nepal Under-19 away in a small chase. Pant did break the record for the fastest recorded U-19 fifty though, getting there in 18 balls, one faster than the previous mark. The match was televised ….and soon after their captain Raju Rijal’s profile picture had popped up on screen, the phone lines were buzzing in the Mumbai cricket circles, wrote  Indian Express. There was only one question on everyone’s lips. “Is Raju Rijul actually Raju Sharma, the one who captained Mumbai’s U-15 team a decade ago?” – and some wrote that he was more than 25 but playing U19 !!!

In 2016  ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup contested by  sixteen International Cricket Council (ICC) members, all matches played had under-19 One Day International (ODI) status. Ten teams qualified automatically for the tournament through their status as ICC full members, while five others qualified by winning regional qualifying events. The final place at the tournament was taken by the winner of the 2015 Under-19 World Cup Qualifier, which was contested by the runners-up at the five regional qualifiers. Defending champions South Africa were knocked out of the tournament in the group stage, with back-to-back defeats to Bangladesh and Namibia.  West Indies eventually defeated India by five wickets, claiming their first title.

Oversight of an important email from the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) left India on the verge of embarrassment in the lead-up to the Under-19 Asia Cup. The cost of the error is not insignificant: it has broken the hearts of seven young cricketers born between November 1997 and November 1998, writes ESPN Cricinfo. On November 3, the BCCI announced through a media release a fresh batch of Under-19 cricketers who were to take part in the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka in mid-December. On December 2, a day before the conditioning camp began in Bangalore, the Indian Express reported that the selectors had made seven changes to the original squad because of the last-minute discovery of the ACC email.

It turned out that the selectors picked the original team based on BCCI tournament norms: anyone who is under 19 can play Under-19 tournaments. The ACC, though, had clearly communicated its eligibility norms to the BCCI: only those who qualify for the next Under-19 World Cup, to be held in New Zealand in early 2018, were eligible for the Asia Cup. This communication was noticed because of a recent reshuffle of duties within the BCCI. Ratnakar Shetty, the BCCI general manager - game development, who is now looking after Under-19 operations, spotted the email and arranged a fresh selection-committee meeting. Of the 39 players that played in the Under-19 Challenger Trophy, 22 were born before November 1998, and were thus ineligible to play the Asia Cup. Had they seen the email from the ACC earlier, the selectors would arguably have selected the Challenger Trophy squads accordingly.

Is it a slip or a casual attitude of office-bearers ?  India could have landed up in Sri Lanka with half its squad ineligible. While the risk of disqualification has been averted, seven players who had their passports made, visas stamped, and bags packed to go to Bangalore to train under Rahul Dravid suddenly have nowhere to go but their state Under-19 matches.

Away from U19 to Womens Cricket,  India's dominance in the women's Asia Cup extended as they sealed their sixth title in as many editions with a 17-run win over Pakistan in Bangkok. It was the second consecutive time India had beaten Pakistan in an Asia Cup final, having done so in 2012-13 as well. The win also ensured India remained unbeaten in this year's tournament, which was being played in the T20 format for the second time. It was Mithali Raj who set up the win, scoring an unbeaten 73 after India opted to bat and taking them to 121 for 5. The bowlers then sent down economical spells to choke Pakistan in the chase, restricting them to 104 for 6.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

4th Dec 2016.

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