That incident will have another ripple effect: an honest player deprived of his place by an overage player, is disillusioned.
Former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi’s autobiography, Game Changers (released last week), is making waves for the candid manner in which he has dealt with issues and personalities.
Going by excerpts published so far, the book seems to have the same tenor with which Afridi played his cricket for over two decades: slam-bang, no-holds barred, devil-may-care.
Among the most colourful players in the history of the game, Afridi has waded into colleagues and opponents with abandon, revealing off and on field interactions, unworried of relationship or reputation.
For instance, he has been sharply critical about former captains Javed Miandad and Waqar Younis, who coached Pakistan at various times when he was playing.
Afridi has also taken swipes at former India opener — and now aspiring politician — Gautam Gambhir. The two had some altercations on the field of play, and at least on one occasion, almost came to blows.
The one person he has praise for (to reiterate, based only on what has appeared in the media as yet) is another former captain and currently Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, whom Afridi considers a man of great commitment.
Many of those featured in the book, one understands, are terribly miffed at the unflattering references to them so strong rebuttals, perhaps even legal action, can be anticipated. But then, nothing sells like controversy, so the book should be a bestseller!
Nonetheless, the most interesting revelation in Game Changers is Afridi’s confession that he wasn’t 16 when he smashed the then fastest ODI century, against Sri Lanka in Nairobi in 1996. That thunderous knock made him an instant star, and his subsequent big-hitting earned Afridi the sobriquet ‘Boom Boom’. But right through his career, Afridi’s age was a matter of curiosity, speculation and debate in the cricket universe.
Skepticism about his official age never ceased. In fact, over a period of time, this became a running joke, so it is courageous of Afridi himself to demolish this myth that had also contributed to the aura around.
I’m done with Afridi, his book and his age, and with due apologies to the former Pakistan player, moved on to the more insidious business of age fudging. Remember, at the first class/international level (where Afridi’s story is hinged), age is of no consequence, but at junior levels, it has great significance.
Truth is the malaise of age fudging is rampant in the sub-continent, and has been a cause of deep worry in India. Several cases of such cheating come to light every year, but even more are glossed over or suppressed.
In schools and college tournaments for specific age groups, this can throw things out of whack. So deep and serious are the ramifications that Rahul Dravid devoted almost his entire M A K Pataudi lecture in 2015 to age cheating.
“The truth is that the player who has faked his age might make it at the junior level not necessarily because he is better or more talented, but because he is stronger and bigger,’’ was among the most important aspects of this problem Dravid raised in his address.
Think of a 12-13-year-old boy/girl pitted against a 15-16-year-old who has contrived to be in the lower age group. Given body structure, strength etc, it becomes a no-contest, apart from being grossly unfair.
Dravid says further, “We all know how much of a difference a couple of years can make at that age. That incident will have another ripple effect: an honest player deprived of his place by an overage player, is disillusioned. We run the risk of losing him forever.”
This is cruel to youngsters wanting to play within the rules and makes a mockery of the systems and tournaments that have been put in place to spot and nurture talent.
Dravid, takes the argument further with a damning hypothetical dimension to the issue. “I think of this overage business as dangerous and even toxic and to me, gives rise to a question: If a child sees his parents and coaches cheating and creating a fake birth certificate, will he not be encouraged to become a cheat? He is being taught to lie by his own elders,” he says.
Foreboding thought, but I couldn’t agree more.