Coaches seek leeway for players as BCCI suspends junior events

The BCCI’s decision to postpone age-group tournaments – possibly a suspension this year – due to Covid-19 has left young players in the lurch and unless the Indian cricket board gives leeway to young cricketers, it could mean a big loss to a generation of cricketers, say prominent coaches.

The BCCI had, on Tuesday, informed state cricket bodies that it would be postponing junior cricket tournaments. Under-19 cricket was expected to begin in April but due to a rise in Covid-19 cases, it has been delayed and a decision on it will be taken only after the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Sources say that the BCCI’s priority at the moment is the safe conduct of the IPL without any untoward incident that can have an impact on the forthcoming T20 World Cup.

“While our endeavour was to get in as many matches as was practicable across different age groups in the season, prevailing circumstances have now forced us to suspend all age-group tournaments. This is on account of the fact that active COVID cases are on the rise and organising tournaments requires intercity travel, strict quarantine measures and the creation and maintenance of bio-secure bubbles for the participants. Moreover, the situation is presently not conducive in some states,” said BCCI’s communication to the member associations, a copy of which is with IANS.

“Considering the fact that the 10th and 12th board examinations are also around the corner across India, it is prudent that our young athletes have the opportunity to prepare and focus on these crucial examinations. Furthermore, our players’ health, safety and well-being are our primary concern. I assure you that we will continue exploring a window for organising the age-group tournaments post the IPL 2021,” added the communication.

However, some top coaches feel that it could impact the career of many youngsters who could become overage next year.

“I think it will have an adverse impact on the promising youngsters who are working throughout the year even during the Covid-19 period. They were making lot of effort on fitness and game despite limitations and were trying hard to represent states and for the country. It will be a setback to all of them,” said Delhi coach Rajkumar Sharma, who also mentored Virat Kohli. Sharma had coached the Delhi junior teams before.

“It is a big loss. Say, for someone who is preparing for under-16 — assuming he was a standby for a couple of years and was hoping that there could be space since the team would be restructured after the old batch would get overage. His chance would be gone and he wouldn’t come into the system. Same thing with U-19 or U-23 – where for many players, it could be the last and only year and they would have wanted to play desperately,” added Sharma while speaking to IANS.

He also felt that the Indian board should compensate, probably give some leeway like extending the age limit and making the tournaments under-20 instead of under-19 and under-17 instead of under-16.

“I think BCCI should compensate something to these kids. If they can extend the age limit or do something like that, these kids can get opportunities next year,” he added.

Tarak Sinha, who has mentored multiple international cricketers and has been a coach for first-class teams, says some leeway like extending age limit can be helpful although it may not help in the under-19 World Cup due to be held next year in the West Indies.

“It is a very big loss. Because there is the junior World Cup next year, this would have been a great preparation. Some players get selected, some do well. So they get a chance to go forward. This (age-group tournaments) is our base. If our base is not good, how do you expect to get players for the future? Junior cricket should go on, come what may. If junior cricket doesn’t happen, we suffer a massive loss since a generation loses,” said Sinha, adding that the loss to under-19 cricketers will be bigger than to under-23 cricketers.

“The World Cup rules will remain the same (the under-19 limit wouldn’t become under-20]. But for India’s domestic age-group events, they can change. The Indian board has anyway changed it in the past. Earlier, they used to have under-15, they changed to U-16. There was U-17, they ended that,” he said.

“I think one year’s grace period can be given. The talent that existed in that group would get a chance to emerge.”