India avoid Under-19 Asia Cup embarrassment

Himanshu Rana is one of seven newly included players in India’s squad for the Under-19 Asia Cup © PTI

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.

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.

The selectors were caught off guard themselves. “The board didn’t communicate to us the eligibility norm,” Venkatesh Prasad, the chairman of the junior selection committee, told ESPNcricinfo. Even Amitabh Choudhury, a BCCI joint secretary and convenor of the junior selection committee, didn’t know of the eligibility criteria.

The selectors met again last week to pick seven new players. In one blow they had lost three quicks. 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.

If not for this reshuffle within the BCCI, 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.

“Our biggest concern as selectors was the psychological effect of this on these kids,” Prasad said. “If I were in their place, I would feel pretty angry and disappointed. We have been assured by the BCCI that it will speak to them and take all necessary steps.”

This has unwittingly brought to fore a gap in the Under-19 system. The World Cups are played every two years, and with boards directing all their efforts towards winning those events, it could mean every alternate batch of Under-19 cricketers doesn’t get to play big tournaments. Cricinfo understands the BCCI is in talks with the ECB for a bilateral series early next year, and these seven players could get their chance there.

This is not the first time the BCCI has made unexplained changes to a representative side. In August this year, more than a month after naming the India A squads for the tour of Australia, the selectors made changes less than a week from departure, without acknowledgement or explanation.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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