I am proud of my 14 year old nephew Manav. He's all that I want to see in a young cricketer. Solid defense, minimal head movement, soft hands, high elbow, measured back lift and immense patience to stay put on the crease for long hours.
But, Manav doesn't like the cricketer that he is.
Before Manav joined a cricket club, years before he started playing in the local cricket leagues of Delhi, even before he started training under a professional coach- It was I, that was his coach/mentor. And since my cricketing heroes were Sunil Gavaskar, to begin with, and later Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, it was only natural that Manav's initiation into the sport was 'copybook' to say the least. My coaching manual read- 'cut and pull were taboo, drives and flicks were the only ways of scoring runs. Swinging at the ball with a horizontal bat is what Baseball players did, not cricketers. And hitting the ball over your opponents head may be a beautiful lob in tennis, but in cricket it was nothing but a mishit. And so, after my orthodox training regime for a few years, my young nephew grew into a fine young talent and I couldn't help but pat myself on the back for building a strong foundation, one that give birth to a future international cricketer.
Ironically, years later, it's this very foundation that's the root cause behind Manav's low spirits. While, both his childhood guru (me) and present coach in the cricket club can't help but admire his batting during local league games, Manav seeks appreciation from his team mates. Unfortunately, that isn't forthcoming.
The heroes in ABC cricket club's under- 15 team are Aditya, Gaurav and Arun. 3 young batsmen, who pack quite a punch if one considers their small stature and lean physique. They are in fact the John Rambos of their team. Not afraid of taking risks. Never the ones to shy away from smacking the ball in the air. Those, that consider a good shot is anything that transports the ball beyond the boundary and has nothing to do with the bat swing, bat position or the follow through. It's this bravado that makes Aditya, Gaurav and Arun the stars of their club team, with all other teammates wanting to be just like them. Manav is no different.
A pertinent question can be- who's to decide what's the best way to play cricket? While both styles of play (orthodox & unorthodox) have their own set of supporters. My latest ramblings point towards a dangerous trend developing in Indian cricket.
The fact is- nothing gives a youngster more joy than being the most popular one in his pack. Nothing matters to him more than being accepted by his own ilk and being admired by them for his talents. Unfortunately, as things stand at the moment, the brash (will bat for 20 overs and score at over 10 runs an over, irrespective of what the match situation is) type of cricketer is far more popular in junior cricket than the mature (will bat for 2 days, counter tough conditions, and pace innings according to the match situation) type of batsman.
So why does junior level cricket in India finds itself in this sorry state?
It all trickles down from International cricket and how we treat our International cricketers. Today, a Suresh Raina is a bigger star in our country than Cheteshwar Pujara. MS Dhoni has and always had more brand endorsements than Rahul Dravid. And if VVS Laxman and Yuvraj Singh walked into a shopping mall together, who would get mobbed? Your guess is as good as mine.
So before we blame anyone else for India's recent failures in test cricket, we need to change ourselves. Are we ready to put test cricketers on a higher pedestal than ODI, T20 & IPL stars? Because only that can guarantee us success in tests. Dhoni's sacking and Sachin's retirement, I'm afraid, isn't going to solve anything.