Only a few of the cricketers from the Australia-bound India Under 19 team will make it big. The rest could fall by the wayside with some perhaps even resorting to corruption to make money like Shalabh Srivastava did.
Punished Shalabh Srivastava among many uncared for by Indian cricket
Next month, an Indian Under 19 team led by Unmukt Chand journeys to Townsville in northern Queensland hoping to emulate the sides of 2000 and 2008 that won the World Cup. They will travel with both hope and trepidation, aware that only a select few will go on to make the transition to the big leagues.
The difference between success and failure has never been as stark.
Make it, and you could be the next Virat Kohli, with your face anchoring a dozen advertisement campaigns.
Fall by the wayside and you could be another Shalabh Srivastava. On Saturday, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) handed down a five-year ban after an inquiry committee found him guilty of "agreeing to fix a match and negotiate terms for the same, even though no actual match-fixing or spot-fixing took place".
The ban also means that Srivastava will be ineligible to receive assistance from the BCCI through the monthly payment scheme, the benevolent fund or a benefit match. He will also never be able to coach or hold another other office in an organisation that comes under the BCCI purview. At the age of 30, his life in cricket is effectively over.
As an 18 year old in that 2000 side, Srivastava – a left-arm seamer – picked up wickets in each game that India played, eventually finishing with 14 at an average of 17.57. He saved his best for the big games, taking two for 25 against Australia in the semi-final and three for 33 against Sri Lanka in the final.
In the years that followed, Srivastava played 41 first-class games for Uttar Pradesh, Central Zone and Rest of India, but the national cap that went the way of Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif – other stalwarts of that Under 19 side – never found him. By the age of 26, he threw in his lot with the Indian Cricket League. When that folded and a general amnesty was announced, he made his way back to the fold.
Time, though, had passed him by. Apart from outings at events like the Hong Kong Sixes, the opportunity to play for India was long gone. He played some games for Kings XI Punjab in the 2011 season, but only warmed the bench this time. Then came the sting operation and ignominy.
A couple of years ago, I spoke to Akash Chopra, who once opened for India alongside Virender Sehwag, about how India nurtures its young talent. "We think we have a limitless supply," he said with a hint of sadness. "When a player drops off the radar, no one bothers to find out what happened to him. We just replace him with someone else."
Srivastava is hardly alone in having failed to replicate his junior-cricket feats. Reetinder Singh Sodhi made an unbeaten 39 in the 2000 final. Four years earlier, in the Lombard Under 15 Challenge Cup final, he had led India to victory against Pakistan with an unconquered 82.
Christopher Martin-Jenkins was moved to write: "Sodhi, a tall and already very accomplished right-handed opener, is clearly destined for stardom." He played 18 one-day games for India, the last of them in 2002. These days, he's merely the subject of where-are-they-now stories.
In the days ahead, Srivastava will be vilified by some of India's more sensationalist media outlets. His family will have cameras and microphones thrust in their faces, and be treated like pariahs. Very few will pause to stop and think why a young man seemingly destined for the big time lost his way.
As Chopra suggested, the arrogance that comes with assuming that there are plenty more in the pipeline rules out any trace of compassion.
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