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Age fraud – BCCI offers amnesty scheme to players, promises ‘stern actions’ to curb menace

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In its most high-profile move against age fraud, the BCCI has proposed an amnesty scheme accompanied by a system of punishments for offenders. Under this, registered players will get an opportunity to voluntarily declare any age fraud and avoid suspension if they provide their actual date of birth, but face bans if they are found to have breached this.

A press statement from the board on Monday said that if the BCCI discovered such a fraud after the deadline of declaration – September 15, 2020 – the players could be banned for two years and barred from any age-group tournaments even after the ban ended. That rule would be both applicable both at the India and the state levels.

ALSO READ: Indian cricket’s age-fraud problem

Age fraud, as the BCCI said, has been a “menace: in Indian cricket for long specifically at age-group level: Under-16, Under 19 and Under 23 (both men women categories).” ESPNcricinfo understands that in the last two years itself, the BCCI has suspended 236 players – 210 men and 26 women. A total of 159 players were detected to have committed age fraud in 2019-20 season.

Rahul Dravid, the former India captain who is now director of cricket at the National Cricket Academy, has long considered age fraud as “seriously detrimental” to the culture of Indian cricket. Dravid reiterated that stance in the media release on Monday.

“Age fraud is a serious matter and is detrimental to the health of the sport,” Dravid said. “Many youngsters who are supposed to be playing in a particular age group fail to make it owing to age fraud. With the BCCI taking stern actions to curb this, it is only advisable for the players to come forward and abide by the directives issued by the board.”

Sourav Ganguly, the BCCI president, has underlined his commitment to “providing a level-playing field across all age groups”. “The BCCI has been taking steps to counter age fraud and are now introducing even stricter measures from the upcoming domestic season. Those who do not voluntarily disclose their misdemeanour will be punished heavily and will be banned for two years,” he said.

How does the age verification process work?

As part of the age verification process, at Under-19 level, the player has to submit his birth certificate along with as many documents concerning his school/college educational reports. For the Under-16 category, the BCCI conducts a one-time TW3 (Tanner-Whitehouse3) bone maturation test at the Under-16 level only. The TW3 test, adopted by the BCCI in 2012, allows accurate estimation of a player’s age by the analysis of x-rays of the lower end of the player’s forearm.

Going forward, from the 2020-21 season, the BCCI said only players aged between 14 and 16 will be permitted to register for the Under-16 level. For the Under-19 category, if a player’s birth certificate has a date two years after his actual date of birth, there will a cap imposed on the number of years the player can feature at that level.

Nonetheless, players have managed to bypass these rules. Last year, the BCCI banned Rasikh Salam, the Jammu & Kashmir pace bowler who represented Mumbai Indians in one IPL game, for two years for submitting a faulty birth certificate when registering with the board. At the time, he was part of the India Under-19 side to play a triangular one-day series in Bangladesh.

ALSO READ: Age-fudging no different from fixing – Rahul Dravid

The BCCI introduced a 24-hour helpline last year (see footnote) to report age and domicile fraud. Upon receiving complaints, the BCCI has launched investigations that reach out to the players’ schools, hospitals of birth, local municipalities and panchayats etc. to verify the documentation provided.

Domicile fraud

The voluntary disclosure scheme will not apply to domicile fraud, which also carries a two-year ban. The number of such cases might have gone up with newer states qualifying to play Ranji Trophy in accordance with Lodha reforms. So, a player qualified to play for a more established state might find it easier to get selected for newer states.

The BCCI also said players under the age of 14 would not be allowed to play in Under-16 tournaments. And those whose birth was registered more than two years after the date of birth would be allowed to play only a certain number of years in the Under-19 events. It didn’t spell out the restriction.

The numbers to report age or domicile fraud are 9820556566 and 9136694499.



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Tom Westley takes pride in ‘massive’ Essex victory as Bob Willis Trophy adds sheen to red-ball legacy

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It may not be a test of endurance to rival the traditional County Championship, but Tom Westley, Essex’s captain, was adamant that his side’s claiming of the inaugural Bob Willis Trophy at Lord’s represented a “massive” achievement for the club, and one which underpinned an era in which they have risen from a period of “mediocrity” in the early 2000s to become the very best red-ball team in the country.

By closing out for a draw on the final day against Somerset, Essex secured their fourth first-class trophy in five seasons, following their promotion from Division Two as champions in 2016, and two County Championship titles in 2017 and 2019.

And though the necessarily low-key celebrations at the end of the contest belied the scale of their latest achievement, Westley insisted that they would treasure the trophy every bit as much as their previous successes, and find a way to do social justice to the achievement as well, in spite of the Covid-19 restrictions currently in place in the UK which limit gatherings to groups of six.

“It’s massive,” Westley said after the trophy presentation at Lord’s. “It may be a one-off trophy, but we were just thinking how special it would be to be the only club in history, potentially, to win the Bob Willis Trophy and play a five-day final at Lord’s.

“Any game of cricket that we play means an awful lot to the club, means an awful lot to the group of lads up in that changing room,” he added. “It’s right up there for me, with the Division One title and the T20 [Blast] last year, definitely.”

For Westley, personally, the achievement had extra significance given that he not only took over the captaincy from Ryan ten Doeschate at the end of last season’s Championship triumph, but that he spent the early part of the year wondering if he and his players would even set foot on a cricket field this summer.

The squad was furloughed in the early part of the year, in keeping with most county teams, and Westley’s major role as skipper in those months proved to be a pastoral one, checking in on his players and making sure they were coping with the invidious circumstances.

“It’s polar opposites,” he said. “From a captaincy side of things, especially during lockdown, it just about getting around the guys as frequently as you can, looking out for their wellbeing and making sure they were in a good space, to now actually having played a tournament and winning is the other end of the spectrum.”

With 172 runs at 19.11 in the six matches, Westley’s contributions have fallen short of his more recent Championship standards. But having chipped in with a crucial 51 in partnership with Alastair Cook in the first innings – a performance that went a long way to securing a decisive first-innings lead – he came good when it mattered, even if his second-innings duck on the final day caused him a tense afternoon in the dressing-room.

“For my first year as captain, it’s been immensely nerve-wracking,” he said. “And a bit frustrating at times because I haven’t played as well as I’d have liked. But it’s just a wonderful feeling now to sit here, having won the Bob Willis Trophy. To be 2019 champions and then to win the Bob Willis Trophy speaks for itself, so I’m immensely proud of the boys, and immensely proud of Essex.

“Internally, it’s been a bit of a train-wreck all day,” he added. “But to be fair, the boys were incredibly calm. They’ve got an unbelievable amount of confidence, based on the success we’ve had in the last few years, and they were pretty chilled. But having become captain, I can sympathise with Tendo now, knowing how nerve-wracking it is when it’s out of your control but all you want is the best for the guys.”

The Bob Willis Trophy itself may be a one-off, but the three-tier format could be here to say, given the changes to the Championship that the ECB is considering for 2021 onwards. Westley insisted he was not against the changes per se, especially given that the two most consistent red-ball teams in the country had made it to the final, but hoped for a bit of meritocracy going forward, to do justice to the very journey that his own county has been on in recent years.

ALSO READ: As it happened – Essex claim Bob Willis Trophy after final-day draw at Lord’s

“It is fitting that the best two red-ball teams over the last few years have played in this final,” he said. “I’m not against the three-tier system, I think it’s proved it’s worked well … but the top sides should be in the top division, because that’s why we play the game.

“I can remember the start of my career at Essex. We played a lot of cricket in Division Two and we had aspirations to get to Division One, and we’ve had that success in the last few years.”

Westley said that Essex’s triumph was a tribute to a number of senior players, not least Cook and Simon Harmer, whom he acknowledged as “world class” after another stellar haul of 38 wickets at 15.28 in the campaign.

But he paid particular tribute to the head coach, Anthony McGrath, and his predecessor as captain, ten Doeschate, for their roles in transforming the club’s self-image after years of being seen as one of the smaller counties on the circuit.

“We’ve got a very settled side and a formula of winning at Chelmsford, so it was extra pleasing to go to a neutral venue and still come out on top,” he said. “But having been at Essex for a number of years now – and not to take away any credit from previous coaches – Mags has been able to galvanise this side like I’ve never seen Essex through previous years.

“I would attribute a lot of success to him, and the way that Tendo took over the captaincy was a culture shift for us as a club.

“We back our own, and that gives us confidence,” he said. “For a county that was fairly mediocre, if I’m being honest, in Division Two for a number of years, to then to create that belief that we could be the best team, a large portion of credit should go to those guys mentioned.”

As for Essex’s post-match plans, however, Westley was understandably coy.

“Essex being Essex, we’ll give it a good nudge and try somehow to have a few beers,” he said. “Socially distanced, I probably have to say, and see where the evening takes us in groups of six. But it’s one that we’re going to have to tiptoe around, I’m guessing is the correct answer!”



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RR v KXIP – IPL 2020

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Sanju Samson has been one of the Rajasthan Royals’ lynchpins since 2013. He even made it to our all-time Royals XI. But, until IPL 2020 came along, Samson had never hit consecutive 50-plus scores for the Royals. That changed on Sunday, with Samson following his 74 off 32 against the Chennai Super Kings with 85 off 42 in a record chase against the Kings XI Punjab.

After the Royals made 226 for 6 in 19.3 overs, Samson said his new-found success stems from some intensive work on his power game, alongside some hard questions asked of himself.

“I think I have been hitting it well for the last one year,” Samson told the host broadcaster, Star, after the game. “So I’m in the right frame of mind. I can see a change in my game and my fitness.”

Achieving that “right” frame of mind came after what Samson described as some “soul-searching”.

“I was really fed up of myself last year,” he said. “I had been trying very hard but things were not happening. Then I really went back to myself, did a bit of soul-searching and I really asked myself lots of different questions. Like, ‘What do I want to achieve in my life?’ and ‘Where do I want to reach until my cricket career finishes?’

“I decided that I have ten more years to play this wonderful game, so I decided to just give my everything towards cricket and nothing else. My family, friends and everyone is really supportive and I’m really happy that I’m giving my whole energy towards cricket – and it’s giving back to me.”

“I decided that I have ten more years to play this wonderful game, so I decided to just give my everything towards cricket and nothing else.”

Sanju Samson on his “soul searching”

One of the features of Samson’s batting in both his half-centuries so far has been his power hitting: he’s hit 16 sixes and five fours in 74 balls faced so far. No one has hit more sixes in the season till date, and Samson’s balls per sixes ratio of 4.6 is easily the highest among the top ten run-getters.

Samson had earlier revealed he had worked on his range-hitting skills during the pandemic-enforced break from cricket.

“I believe that it’s in my genes. My father is a very powerful man so I think I also get the same strength,” he said with a laugh, when asked about his power-hitting on Sunday. “I have really worked hard on my fitness. I have understood that my game is all about power, so I have invested a lot of time in developing my muscles and all those things, so I’m very happy that it’s coming out nicely.”

Samson’s hitting left captain Steven Smith almost searching for words.

“Wow,” Smith said when asked about Samson’s batting. “He’s just striking the ball cleanly all around the ground. Jeez, he’s powerful, he’s hitting the ball so well, and making the job easier for whoever he’s batting with. He’s hitting sixes at will at the moment.

“It’s just going to be about adapting when we get to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, where it’s [the ground] a little bit bigger I think. But most of the balls he’s hitting are probably going out of most grounds. Pretty good that.”

ALSO SEE: Kings XI Punjab v Rajasthan Royals live score, September 27 2020



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Recent Match Report – Somerset vs Essex Final 2020

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Essex 337 for 8 (Cook 172, Westley 51, Gregory 6-72) and 179 for 6 (ten Doeschate 46, Leach 3-38) drew with Somerset 301 (Byrom 117, Overton 66, Cook 5-76) and 272 for 7 (Lammonby 116, Porter 4-73) – Essex won the title on first-innings lead

Essex survived a nervous final afternoon at Lord’s to secure the inaugural and perhaps only Bob Willis Trophy. While the match ended as a draw, the playing regulations stated that, in such circumstances, the winner would be the side with the higher first innings total.

The result mean Essex have won the domestic first-class competition three times in the last four years. Their status as the best red-ball county side in the land is undisputed.

But they had to cling on against a determined Somerset on the final day. On a deteriorating pitch which offered assistance to seamers and spinners alike, Essex slipped to 131 for 5 with a minimum of 27.1 overs remaining before Ryan ten Doeschate and Adam Wheater came together to deny Somerset.

It means Somerset have finished second in the domestic first-class competition in each of the last three years and four times in the last five. In all, they have been runners-up seven times this century and remain one of only three first-class counties not to have won in the modern era. It may console them a little to know that this competition is not considered on a par with winning the Championship and that, even had they won here, it would not have broken their duck. But it will only be a little. The novelty of finishing second has worn pretty thin for Somerset.

It remains to be seen whether the Bob Willis Trophy will ever be contested again. While there are those keen to see it installed as a showpiece event at the end of each season, others are worried whether that will serve to dilute the sense of achievement in winning the County Championship. Is it fair, they ask, to ask a side which has proved itself the best over the course of a season to risk it all on an autumnal encounter where the toss or the conditions might disproportionately define the result?

One solution would be to award the Championship title to the side which finishes top at the end of the league stages and then contest this match as a standalone event between the top two sides. But even that would threaten to dilute the value of the Championship victory.

Whether this match worked as a showpiece event is debatable. There were moments, not least when Alastair Cook or Tom Lammonby were batting, when it really did feel like a celebration of county cricket. In the face of the unique challenges posed by this season, it has been an excellent solution.

It was probably fitting these two sides qualified, too. Both are stuffed with the products of their own academies – nine players in each team could be considered homegrown – with numerous others having moved on (the likes of Ben Foakes, Dom Bess, Ravi Bopara, Jos Buttler and Jamie Overton) to ply their trade elsewhere. They have consistently pushed for silverware in recent years, supplying players for England in the process. They are, in short, two clubs doing a huge amount right and providing an example to others of what can be achieved on modest budgets.

But the challenges posed by the horribly cold weather, the empty stands – something which may prove an issue at any time in a neutral venue – and the need to separate the sides in a drawn match were substantial. And while it just about worked as a one-off event, it didn’t really leave you wanting more, either. As Tom Abell, the Somerset captain put it: “The County Championship is the best first-class competition in the world.” It probably requires nurturing more than tinkering.

Earlier Craig Overton had helped Somerset thrash another 45 runs in 8.1 overs before the declaration came. The target – 237 in a minimum of 80 overs – probably looked generous. And, for a while on the final day, with Cook batting serenely, it appeared Essex may coast there. But his dismissal saw them abandon plans of completing an outright win and settle instead for survival over the last 40 overs of the match.

Cook looked most underwhelmed by the decision from Russell Warren, the umpire, to adjudge him out caught behind. Replays were inconclusive – it is possible the sound as ball passed bat was caused by the bat clipping the pad – but it is hard to recall another dismissal in Cook’s career when he has stood so long and made his displeasure more obvious.

Either way, the wicket appeared to jolt Essex. By then, they had already lost Nick Browne, edging a delivery from Lewis Gregory, who finished with eight in the match, that demanded a stroke and bounced a little, and Tom Westley, who had been trapped in front by the persevering Overton. Jack Leach, without a first-class wicket since last November, when he dismissed Tim Southee in Mount Maunganui, gained lavish turn and bounce from his first delivery and broke his drought with the wicket of Dan Lawrence, who was defeated by what appeared to be an arm ball.

But Paul Walter was stubborn and ten Doeschate was solid. And while the former was eventually removed by Leach, courtesy of one that turned from round the wicket, Wheater joined ten Doeschate in a sixth-wicket stand that contributed only 48 runs but denied Somerset for 27 overs. By the time ten Doeschate fell, top-edging a sweep, there were only moments remaining. The draw and the trophy were secured. “I couldn’t have asked for anyone better to be out there in that situation,” Westley, the Essex captain in his first year in the role, said afterwards.

“I’m incredibly proud of all the boys and management,” Westley added. “This [tournament] may never happen again, so to win it is amazing. We may be the only club to ever win the Bob Willis Trophy. It’s a continuation of success we’ve had in red-ball cricket over the last few years. It’s right up there with winning the County Championship last year.”

Abell was more subdued. “Disappointment is the overwhelming emotion,” he said. “We were second to Essex last year and we were desperate not to be again. Coming so close a number of times, we feel it is within touching distance. This adds fuel to the fire. But the fire is already burning pretty deep within everyone.”

Westley was quick to praise the club’s culture, academy and willingness to “give our own a go”, but it was noticeable that he also picked out the imports for their influence. Simon Harmer was described as a “match-winner”, coach Anthony McGrath was praised for him ability to “galvanise this side like I’ve never seen at Essex in previous years” and ten Doeschate, the previous captain, credited for instilling belief and transforming the club from “a fairly mediocre Division Two team” to one which believed it could be the best in the country. The message? Providing opportunities for homegrown players is crucial, but let’s not forget the positive influence of Kolpaks, overseas and the like.

There’s a bigger picture here. To have completed this competition in these circumstances, to have provided opportunities for young players, to have kept the game relevant and to have provided some online entertainment for spectators at a time when it was sorely needed, has been something of a triumph. And a triumph that not all other sports have managed to achieve. The game still faces some substantial challenges – many of the players on show here may well be on furlough again by the end of the week – but this competition has provided a reminder of the better times that lie ahead. Maybe we’ll come to look back on it as county cricket’s Dunkirk moment.



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