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Pathan is good, but has a long way to go

The India under-19 teamís victory in the Junior Asia Cup in Pakistan shows that Indiaís junior cricket is on the right track. To come back to win the title after losing the opening round to Sri Lanka, who they went on to beat in the final, shows the improvement the team made as the tournament progressed.

The batting came good only in the final where they won comfortably, but it was the bowling, which was the most heartening factor. The bowlers enjoyed the grass left on the pitches and the bounce and movement the surfaces provided and excepting for the final, batting was not easy for any of the teams.

Indiansí best game was against Pakistan where the bowlers defended a paltry total to earn a victory by 10 runs.

Irfan Pathan was the pick of the bowlers with a record haul of nine wickets including a hattrick against Bangladesh, and he generally bowled well on the tour.

There will be some who may scoff at his nine-wicket bag against Bangladesh, but itís the same argument as to why only he picked nine wickets and the others only one between them. Obviously because he is that much better than the others just as Matthew Hayden was better than the other batsmen in his team on the day he got the world record of 380 runs.

Still it makes sense not to get carried away with the performance, encouraging though it is, because, as we have found out there is a vast gap between under-19 cricket and international cricket.

Pathan has not played much of first class cricket and he certainly hasnít got the kind of success that he did there as he had in the just concluded tournament. Even on the A tour to England earlier in the year he wasnít an eye catcher. And while the ignoramuses have ignored the batting performances of the A team ó making the excuse that the counties did not have full strength sides ó by the same application the A bowlers havenít quite done the job.

We in India get excited when anybody who bowls over 100 kmph comes along and we have the tendency to call even medium-pacers as fast bowlers. Then if an overseas person speaks about any of our bowlers we go overboard. So much are we hung up on getting praise and recognition from overseas. So not too long ago Munaf Patel was the flavour of the month and now it is Irfan Pathan.

At this rate both Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Co. better watch out, for we might have a completely new opening attack in Australia.

Poor Munaf is neither here nor there with both Mumbai and Gujarat not picking him for their Ranji squads. Having begun his cricket in Gujarat it was the Gujarat Cricket Association which had to give him the Ďno objectioní certificate, which a player needs to transfer from one association to another. Unfortunately the date has passed and so though Munaf gave a letter to Mumbai Cricket Association, they could not pick him.

Earlier in the season Munaf had categorically stated that since he learnt his cricket in Gujarat he would play for them only but after the little champion spoke with him he opted to play for Mumbai. Unfortunately for him, though, he did not know the transfer rules and so could not get the NOC in time.

Gujarat may have dropped him out of pique for dumping them and choosing to play for Mumbai. Hopefully the young man will not be tossed around like a yo-yo in the ego tussle between administrators.

One thing is for sure though, and that is Mumbai Cricket Association have been saved a potential embarrassment because if they had picked Munaf then questions would have been asked as to what should the other promising new ball bowlers who have been toiling away in local cricket do'

Picking a player on potential is one thing, but eventually there has to be some performance somewhere to back the playerís claim for a place, especially when there are others who have been sweating it out too.

Once Munaf plays local cricket then even if he does not pick a single wicket the selectors would be justified in picking him on potential. But without playing a single game of local cricket it would be most unfair on the others who have been playing and performing in local cricket.

Debashish Mohanty, who is a proven performer, is finding it difficult to transfer to Bengal because the Cricket Association of Bengal is insisting that he plays at least one season of local club cricket. That is a sensible move, for it does allay any fears that local players may have about outsiders simply turning up and taking their places without playing a simple local game.

The Indian season will begin with the Ranji matches starting even as you read this and it affords players the opportunity to stake their claims for a place on the Indian side.

There may not be too many vacancies at the moment, but make no mistake there will be more than one when the team returns from Australia.

Not just for Indians but lots of other countryís players have found a team of Australia to be their Waterloo and though there are some who come back to their national team, there are many who are so shell-shocked that they are simply not the same players anymore.

That used to be the case in the late 70s and 80s with teams that went to the West Indies. Some players of those teams never played for their state leave alone their country again.

That is what champion sides do. They not only beat you, but also leave your confidence so badly shattered that it takes great mental strength to come back to any semblance of form.

There are some who went on the last tour in 1999-2000 and who have never looked the same players again.

Who will it be this time'

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