After topping the run-scoring charts in the Vijay Merchant Trophy U-16 tournament with 980 runs at 81.70, 15-year-old Arman Jaffer has vaulted into national attention. Watching his innings of 290 in the final against Delhi, his coaches wondered whether his knock had been bettered in the past at this level. His stylish on-side play and calm temperament, meanwhile, drew comparisons with his famous uncle Wasim. But asked whether he has the potential to play at the highest level his coaches only offer a smile that translates into ‘too early to tell’.
While age-group tournaments are a great starting point for talent, early success doesn’t guarantee future accomplishments. And the inverse is also true. For every Sachin Tendulkar who first represented his state in the U-16s, there is an MS Dhoni who had to wait till the U-19s or an Umesh Yadav who wasn’t part of a Vidarbha side till the U-22 level.
At the U-16 level, most players have only played the game for a few years and those who began early are at a bit of an advantage. The primary differentiating factor at this age is skill, but strength also gains importance as they grow older. Arman dominated bowlers whose bodies were still developing but in the future will come across pacers who can bowl faster for longer and spinners who will get more turn.
Coaches also warn of burnouts from playing frequent matches and of some players not possessing the mentality to cope with failure. Successfully moving up is a combination of several variables: focus, passion and maybe a bit of luck. You could practice all day and play any number of matches but one unplayable delivery on a crucial day can get you out for a low score. However the other factors play out, Jaffer clearly has a bit of luck going his way. He was dropped twice — once on 28 and then on 166.
Jonathan is a senior correspondent based in New Delhi, email@example.com