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The Trial, Tribulation & Triumph of Ankit Bawne

The Trial, Tribulation & Triumph of Ankit Bawne

Then came the boos at Trent Bridge. Followed by a one-year ban from the IPL. Followed by being abused by fans in the West Indies. His domestic triple hundreds were a cause for mirth, and his debut innings were mocked on ball by ball commentary.

Fandom is a strange beast. I was a Ravindra Jadeja bandwagoner well before such a bandwagon existed. Shane Warne anointing him “Rock Star” only made the fandom more real.

Then came the boos at Trent Bridge. Followed by a one-year ban from the IPL. Followed by being abused by fans in the West Indies. His domestic triple hundreds were a cause for mirth, and his debut innings were mocked on ball by ball commentary.

I have always wondered how he coped.

Small town boy thrust on the big stage, mocked, humiliated and an object of derision for many. What kind of mental strength is required to internalize this, work harder, and come back stronger, when the easy option is to chuck it all and walk away?

Then 2013 happened. Michael Clarke became his bunny, and the “Rock Star” morphed into “Sir”. And pretty much everyone and his uncle was on the Ravindra Jadeja bandwagon.

I had no idea who Ankit Bawne was. For starters, I was not big on age group cricket at the time. And secondly, he did not play for Mumbai.

Ankit Bawne dawned on me when the “age fudging” controversy involving him broke.

“The BCCI on Wednesday was left red-faced after Maharashtra batsman, who was named captain of the for a quadrangular tournament, had to be dropped following revelations that he provided inaccurate information about his age”

So, let us understand this – the captain of the India U-19 team was labelled a cheat by the national media.

Punditry was quick to pounce on this. Opinion makers bemoaned the consistent age manipulation in India’s age group cricket. One pundit went so far as to give examples from his playing days when one of his opponents was sporting a full beard at the age of 16.

My name is Shrikant Subramanian. I have had my name variously spelled as Shrikant, Srikanth, Shreekant, Shreekanth, Srikant, Sreekanth and Shirikanth. And this is just by the people I know and love. And I have lost count of the number of times my parentage has been changed because people insist on spelling my last name as variations of Subramaniam, Subramaniyan, and so on and so forth.

“According to the BCCI database, Bawne’s official date of birth is December 17, 1992 but now it has been learnt that his passport states a DOB that is before September 1, 1992.”

So, let us understand this – the captain of the India U-19 team was labelled a cheat by the national media because of a perfectly plausible clerical error.

Puberty is a strange animal. My son is 12 years old. He stands at 5’4”, and wears Adult Medium shirts. He has a bush under his nose, and the voice of a 20-year-old. Because of his genetics, diet and exercise, he looks older than most teenagers. And Indian kids his age look puny compared to him. Were he playing cricket in India, forests would have been decimated by the reams devoted to how age-based cheating happens.

Now understand that when the controversy broke out, the BCCI already had in place methods to detect age, based on bone density.

Bone age is the degree of maturation of a child’s bones. As a person grows from fetal life through childhood, puberty, and finishes growth as a young adult, the bones of the skeleton change in size and shape. These changes can be seen by x-ray. The “bone age” of a child is the average age at which children reach this stage of bone maturation.

The Greulich & Pyle method was the method of choice to determine bone age. Interestingly enough:

Our results show the cross-racial differences between skeletal growth patterns of Asian and Hispanic children and skeletal growth patterns of white and African American children. Radiologists assigned a bone age that was relatively close to the chronologic age of African American and white children. However, bone age and chronologic age were significantly different in Asian and Hispanic children. Cross-racial differences in four age subsets indicate that Asian and Hispanic children mature earlier than African American and white children. This holds true for girls and boys, especially those aged 10–13 years and 11–15 years, respectively.Genetic differences, diet, and nutritional intake may influence variations in the bone growth pattern. This calls into question the applicability of the Greulich and Pyle atlas as a reference for children of different races. Our results suggest that bone age assessment in children can be improved by considering the ethnic population.

Since all evidence is anecdotal, here is mine.

Kids in my immediate family played age group cricket in both Mumbai and Maharashtra around this time. Before any age group tournament hosted by the MCA, they were required to go to specific hospitals to get their bone ages tested, which I found both curious and interesting. And even more curious and interesting was the fact that almost inevitably, their bone age would come out to be much lower than their actual ages, by 3 years in one case.

Once the controversy broke, the BCCI, in its infinite wisdom, decided to change the method of verification by switching from the Greulich & Pyle method to the Tanner and Whitehouse method.

But Ankit Bawne was not guilty of fudging his age. He was guilty of being honest.

“Ankit told us that he got his passport made by an agent who had goofed up his date of birth due to which this discrepancy happened. Well, that issue can be sorted out but as of now we can’t take any chance with him,” the selection committee member preferring anonymity said.

So, let us understand this – the captain of the India U-19 team was labelled a cheat by the national media because of what seemed a perfectly plausible clerical error, the kind that is known to happen in India all the time. Was there much of an effort made to find out if Bawne was indeed telling the truth? Was his side of the story sought, or as is all too common, once he was labelled, it just stayed stuck.

Mental health has become front and center in cricket, especially after the very public struggles of Marcus Trescothick and Jonathan Trott. No longer a taboo subject, reams have been written about the loneliness of a cricketer and the struggles they face daily.

Picture this then – an 18-year-old, on the cusp of leading his nation in the World Cup, discarded because of what is a clerical error that he brought to light. Picture also this – his replacement as captain of the India U-19 team leads the team to winning the World Cup, scoring a 100 in the finals, becoming the toast of the nation in the process.

I have always wondered how Ankit Bawne coped with this – small town boy, thrust into the limelight for no fault of his, ridiculed and humiliated on the national stage.

Understand that these kids make life choices at an age when they have barely begun dealing with psychological and physiological changes puberty brings. To then have it all taken away, and then to see your team mates become the toast of the nation, lifting a trophy you should have been holding.

How does one cope?

Ankit Bawne could have been lost to Indian cricket. And no one would begrudge him that decision.

Ankit Bawne has played One IPL game. A First-Class average of 50+ does not merit him in the discussions about batting slots in the Indian side. Nor does his showing for the India A side, both in the Four-day and One-day formats.

Yet he perseveres.

It is the Ankit Bawnes of the world that sustain Indian cricket.

Some, like Jadeja, get the rewards commensurate to the hard yards put in. For Ankit Bawne and thousands of others, that reward may never come.

Yet they continue to toil, in little watched tournaments, away from the spotlight, with little or no fanfare. And even less appreciation for their art and craft.

They persevere.

As India’s domestic season begins to kick into high gear, we should all be grateful for this.