By Nadim Memon | Opening Doorz Editorial | December 02, 2016

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Abdul Qadir licked his fingers in delight as he saw a young lad at the other end in Peshawar, Pakistan. He was just around sixteen years of age. It was an exhibition match; India was in a hopeless situation. Qadir came in, rushing in with his sideways action. Thwack! The ball flew over the boundary. At the other end was Krishnamachari Srikkanth, the Indian cricket captain.

The next ball yielded no runs. Qadir thought he had quietened the lad. The next four balls rewrote Indian cricket history. 4, 6, 6, 6. Srikkanth was shaking his head in disbelief. In India, it was celebration time!

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar had arrived. December 16, 1989, was the date. But the date that actually changed the face of Indian cricket was a month earlier, November 15, 1989, when making his debut for India, Sachin was struck on the nose by a Waqar Younis bullet in the second innings. Pakistanis thought it was the end of the school lad. It was just the beginning!

The master is back again with his act. Cricket seems to be constantly flowing in his bloodstream. For the last three years he has been itching to start the 14-a-side team format for schools cricket which finally saw the light of day this year at the Harris and Giles Shield Cricket Tournament.

Helping the cricketer in his vision was the new-look Mumbai School Sports Association (MSSA), who, after getting the nod from the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) implemented the format for the under-16 team. The result was almost magical, just like that Abdul Qadir Peshawar incident.

The students are happy, the coaches have welcomed this decision and cricket administrators are pleased in the manner in which this tournament was played and the confidence it has built up within the good players who were ‘fringe’ players. With this format, a bowler who is brilliant, and who will not normally get a chance in the playing 11, because of say his poor batting or below-par fielding, will definitely get a look in. This happened with Shivam Naik, the Bombay Scottish off-spinner. Ditto the case with a good batsman.

“It took me three years to get this initiative going,” says Sachin. “But better late than never.” The MSSA took charge of this initiative of Sachin by writing to the MCA that they were going forward in introducing this concept. The office-bearers of the MSSA then had a meeting with Sachin. The rest, as they say, is history.

With this format, quality batsmen faced quality bowlers. A total number of 117 schools participated in this tournament and the verdict from the lads was a unanimous “thumbs up.”

The performances this year was a healthy three hat-tricks, six centuries, one double hundred and one 10-wicket haul in a match. The matches were played in the 45-over format. With this format 351 more cricketers got to play a match, which would not have been the case had it been the usual 11 players.

While the format has been lauded, there are some concerns from cricket quarters as to how a cricketer will develop his all-round abilities if his flaws are not corrected. Like, if a bowler is not a good fielder or a batsman, and continues in this format, he will forever neglect the other aspects of this game. For all those who are thinking in this manner, they are not wrong. However, it must be stated that the 14-over-a-side format was only till the stage where the best 16 teams were selected for the final round. Now that the 16 teams have qualified, the format will go back to 11-a-side!

Sachin Tendulkar is focused on this format and his vision for more boys to get a look-in is clear. This is what he has to say about the format: “Boys travel all the way from suburbs in local trains carrying their heavy kit bags and when they don’t get chance in the playing 11 they feel they have lost an entire year for nothing. This format will help three extra good bowlers or batsmen to be included in the side. Also, previously, any bowler would take the wickets of the tail-enders. Now, he will find it difficult. And every batsman will be facing a quality bowler.”

Abdul Qadir might have thought that the school lad he was bowling to was a tail-ender. That school lad is now re-writing the script, wanting more school boys to make it to the highest level of cricket.

Well done, Sir!

Also read: Kanga League Cricket: Who knocked the bails out?

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