India A and India U-19 coach Rahul Dravid while delivering the fourth MAK Pataudi Memorial lecture in Delhi said that “sourge of overage players” in Indian junior cricket is equivalent to “fixing and corruption”. The former Indian captain further said age-fidging was “toxic” exercise and “loophole” that should be curbed if the BCCI and the state associations monitored the privately-run academies and made it mandatory for players to submit valid birth certificates.
The legendary batsman concentrated on the administrative system and rampant problem in junior cricket.
“I think of this overage business as dangerous and even toxic and to me, gives rise to a question: If a child sees his parents and coaches cheating and creating a fake birth certificate, will he not be encouraged to become a cheat? He is being taught to lie by his own elders,” Dravid said to a gathering which included former Indian captains Sunil Gavaskar, Bishen Singh Bedi, Ajit Wadekar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Anil Kumble and the Indian and South African squads. “At 14, it may be in the matter of the age criteria, at 25 it may be fixing and corruption. How are the two different in any way? In both cases, is it not blatant cheating?”
During his speech that lasted for half an hour, Dravid said players’ guardian and his coach agree to fudge the age even knowing that there is always a risk that they could face the wrath of the law. Rahul emphasized that the great concern is that sometimes promising young cricketers could miss the selection as he can fail to meet the proper criteria.
“Like the issue of bowling actions, it is a similar emphasis on short-term results that has led to the scourge of overage players in junior matches,” Dravid explained. “That entire exercise begins when a coach alters a player’s date of birth so that he can take part in a local tournament. The parents are happy to accept the value of an extra year or two, particularly in junior cricket and, academically at middle school.
“The truth is that the player who has faked his age might make it at the junior level not necessarily because he is better or more talented, but because he is stronger and bigger. We all know how much of a difference a couple of years can make at that age. That incident will have another ripple effect: an honest player deprived of his place by an overage player is disillusioned. We run the risk of losing him forever.”
Dravid hailed BCCI’s bone density tests to eradicate the problem and suggested that the board and every state association maintain a record of valid birth certificates for each player in a central database.
“It is not that nothing has been done to identify the guilty – and I do think of them as guilty,” Dravid said. “Like, in the KSCA, a child’s birth certificate is valid only if it is dated within two years of the child’s birth. The BCCI’s bone density test is an excellent introduction, but even if it discovers that a child wanting to play in an Under-16 competition doesn’t meet the stipulated criteria, there is nothing done to ensure that the child’s birth date is reviewed or corrected so that he doesn’t slip through the system and turn up as a 20-year-old trying to get into an Under-19 tournament after a few years.”
Dravid also gave a solution to provide a license to the numerous privately run cricket academies around the country.
“How can we work through this loophole? Those minimum standards guidelines to academies that I spoke about earlier perhaps could also state a demand that academics need to collect birth certificates of every aspiring young cricketer and have it recorded into the larger state association database of registered players.”
Dravid’s major part of speech dominated how the administrator and others involved with the game deal with “loophole” to save a future generation of talented cricketers.
“I strongly believe that these young kids are the first generation of Indians who could be growing up without a deep personal connection to the game,” he said. “Today’s children have many, many other options. They will grow up to be the thought leaders and opinion makers and fund managers. It is why Indian cricket must reintroduce its children to the game and its magic all over again. They are a very, very serious audience.”
Talking about himself, Dravid said he is modern day parent. He has two young children, one of whom just started playing the age-group cricket. Dravid declared he is a post-1983 World Cup generation kid for whom cricket and cinema were two preferred leisure activities. But, for the 21st century generation cricket no more hold the same appeal as their generation.
“The generation when every Indian baby is born with a cricket bat in the hand is well behind us,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dravid was asked why he chose this topic for the MAK Pataudi lecture, he said, “I believe in it passionately – that we need to invest as much energy, time and focus into India’s youngest cricketers as we do for those at the elite level.”