Under 16 or 16 Plus?

By Somesh Verma

Around a week ago, when U-16 National Championship was being played in the capital, a message appeared on social networking site facebook, “Went to watch U-16 nationals. Sadly, most players were 16-plus. Real under 16 players are bound to be affected if overage players play”.

It is almost obvious that this person had a boy playing in the championship and in most likelihood, was a real U-16 player.

One of the reasons, the U-16 national championship was organized during SLC exams – when boys of 16 and thereabouts are appearing for the tests touted as ‘Iron Gate’ – was that a team needed to be selected for the upcoming ACC U-16 Elite Cup, to be played in Malaysia in May. Nepal is grouped with Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait and Malaysia in the championship.

More than a week has passed and a team has not been announced. It should be noted here that Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) had already requested with ACC for an extension in the deadline to send the name of its squad. Seemingly, that deadline has passed.

The reason is simple, out of more than a hundred players participating in the championship, medical experts found only 38 to be in the age-group they claimed to be in. Their names and medical reports have been forwarded to ACC for verification, one believes. One can understand CAN frustration of not being able to select players on their merit. Rather, CAN has to select players who are ‘honest’ about their age, and not on their cricketing skills and caliber.

Age-discrepancies among competitors lead to performance advantages for older players and injury-risks for the younger ones. Consider a 16-year-old player playing against 18 year old. Both have different levels of maturity in terms of body. Body maturity level of a 16 year old cannot be compared to that of 18 year old. This is the reason why many countries, in their age-group structure, fix a limit on the number of overs a young player can bowl at a stretch or even an entire day. Because there is a limit to how much a young body can take. The other worry is the injury scare for a younger player, playing against their ‘seniors’.

 

Mostly overage players are fielded as everybody wants to win. The competition to win among players or their districts or regions or even CAN is understandable, but we have to ask a question: What price are we ready to pay for win?

We cannot – and Cricket Association should not – forget that Nepal was disqualified in the ACC U-15 Elite Cup in 2007 for fielding several overage players. It should have been a lesson then, not to repeat such mistakes, if it was a mistake at all. But five years down the line, such that learning is not visible.

ACC, in its statement then had said that ‘The Asian Cricket Council’s U-15 Tournaments, as with its U-17 and U-19 tournaments are held to be just that – for those players who are the appropriate age’.

Age-group tournaments – whether they are national or international – are meant to be a feeder system, a system which keeps the young talent engaged in the game, till they mature enough to play at the higher level, represent their nations.

Whether it was the greed of win at any cost or utter carelessness on CAN’s part, we’ve been shamed as a nation once already, and it is trickledown effect we see that same is happening as most regions decided to field overage players for their team.

CAN needs to issue clear directive to districts, schools and regions about age verification of the players. One thing the officials and also the parents need to realize is their players cannot get far by lying about their age. Age-Verification program establishes a player’s bone-age maturity using the Assessment of Skeletal Maturity-TW3 and finds their real age.

In 2005, while playing UAE in ACC U-15 Elite Cup, Nepali players were taunted by their UAE counterparts by calling them, “Uncleji”. We don’t need to genius to know the reason.

Moreover, cricket has always been named a ‘Gentleman’s Game’ and it should continue to be so. Now the young players themselves, their parents, schools they come from, their districts, regions and CAN have to realize that gentlemen don’t lie, least of all, about their age.

(Ed: The write-up appeared in Somesh Verma’s weekly sports column – OFFSIDE – in The Kathmandu Post, on 7th April,2012)

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