For once the BCCI acted on something in advance: The youngish team led by Suresh Raina for the Zimbabwe Tri-series was announced days before India crashed out of the T20 World Cup in the West Indies.
Matches against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have always thrown up an interesting situation: If you send your best team and they win, people will say that they were supposed to win anyway. If they lose, then that’s cause for a major embarrassment.
Sending a second-string team is different. If they win, then it gives the younger players the much needed confidence. If they lose, then there's something to be learnt. You come to know the actual strength of your bench strength. That's valuable.
A no win situation for the youngsters
Raina will be tried out for the future. Virat Kohli gets to be vice-captain at the age of just 21. MS Dhoni won't last forever, so it's a good move. Naman Ojha, R Ashwin, Ashok Dinda, Pankaj Singh, Vinay Kumar and Umesh Yadav may get to make their ODI debuts. That'll be some exposure.
An interesting fact is that there won't be a single player in the team who is 28 or above! Another way to look at it could be: The entire squad together has played less than 300 ODIs. Sachin Tendulkar alone has played 442 ODIs.
One really has to go back many years to remember when the BCCI took such a big gamble on youth.
A long-term strategy?
So will the BCCI make this their long-term strategy or is it just a flash in the pan? Before 2007, the large number of Tests and ODIs were introducing some amount of fatigue in international cricket. Fast bowlers were the biggest casualty. Then into this cocktail was thrown international T20 and the IPL. The whole Indian team has started to look jaded. In the future it can only get worse and something has to be done right now.
Focus shifts to ODIs from T20
If you make ''Youngistan for Zimbabwe and Bangladesh'' a permanent strategy, then you will make sure that the seniors and bench are both kept fresh and fighting fit. Another time to rest seniors can be during dead rubbers. Australia used this strategy with great effect in the past. That's one of the ingredients that helped them rule the 1990s and the 2000s.
Now, in the current series, Sri Lanka is also involved, but India has played its fair share of matches against the island nation in the recent past. From January 2008 to now, India has played 68 ODIs, out of which 26 were against the Lankans alone! That's close to 40% despite there being about 10 regular ODI playing nations. The seniors won't miss much by not playing against Tillakaratne Dilshan & Co.
After faring miserably in the 2007 and 2009 editions of the T20 WC, the Aussies banked on 29-year-old Michael Clarke. And he didn't disappoint. He took them to the final after winning every match in the tournament. All in all, it was Australia's best international T20 performance. India has to keep experimenting in a similar fashion.
India A and Under-19
Another way to groom youngsters and get them to face the short ball is to have many more overseas tours for Under-19 and India A players. The BCCI earns more than Rs 1000 crore a year. While all the focus is on earning and earning, very little reports come out on how it actually spends all its money.
By promoting many more tours, which come under this category, even if they may not be money-spinners, the BCCI will add strength to younger players and give them the much-needed exposure. Right now such tours are kept to a bare minimum. In fact in 2008 & 2009, there was just one Under-19 Test tour every year.
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Picking Raina & Co. for the upcoming series was a good first step by the BCCI.
One only hopes that this is part of a long-term strategy with more and more youngsters getting exposed to the international arena in every manner possible.
The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger.