India's recent triumph over Australia in the final of the Under-19 World Cup opened up the floodgates. From receptions on the tarmac on arrival to felicitations and cash rewards from the Board of Control for Cricket in India to panel discussions on television channels, the young men who were till recently merely cricketers have taken their baby steps towards stardom. To wonder whether this is good or bad is an exercise in academia, for the times we live in are such. As a society, we are constantly on the hunt for celebrity, and, increasingly, associate our own well being and happiness, however fleetingly, with the deeds of others. It's just the situation we live in; if India win, we're happy, and feel a deep connection with those who are successful. If they lose, there's despair, which manifests in many ways, from the trivial, such as venting frustrations on social media to the obnoxious, such as tarring the nameplates of cricketers at their residences or flinging a rock through someone's car windows.
While the celebrity aspect is unavoidable, what should be in our control is how the cricketing lives of these striplings unfold. Ian Chappell, who was a television commentator for the host broadcaster and watched the event closely, wrote in a column on Cricinfo that some of the India players, most notably Harmeet Singh and Unmukt Chand, were ready to play for the senior team, and went so far as to suggest that playing for India A or in lesser events would be a waste of time, as they would stagnate. While Chappell knows a touch more about cricket than most people who watch the game, and has consistently had the best interests of the sport at heart, his suggestion is fraught with danger.
In many countries in the cricketing world, prime among them England, for whom and whose systems Chappell usually has thinly veiled contempt, there's been a historical approach of not picking players young. And, often, once the player has been through the grind, he's had any semblance of individuality coached out of him. In such a system there's merit in his suggestion, but this has never been the case in India. History is littered with cases of players being picked extraordinarily young - both in terms of age and in terms of the body of work they've put together - and the hit rate of successes versus those left behind is not something to be proud of. For every Sachin Tendulkar - and you could argue he'd have done just as well even if he was first picked five years later than he was - there are several players who have shone briefly, only be lost to the game in the long run.