Time to lower the age of consent

INSIDE CRICKET
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The Independent Online
NICK COOK

Jason Gallian's Test debut followed last week's comprehensive one-day international wins by England Under-19 over the touring South African youngsters. Gallian, 24, captained an Australian XI at the same level before committing himself to Lancashire and England. Although after Edgbaston the temptation may be less than overwhelming, I wonder how many of the South Africans are going to reveal British ancestry in the future and end up playing for the country which proved so superior to them in both limited-over games?

The Under-19 game has always had a good record for unearthing talents. My own Under-19 year, against the West Indies in 1975, provided the first sight of the likes of Nigel Briers, now Leicestershire's captain, and Vic Marks and Chris Tavare, who both played Test cricket.

The difference between then and now is that we were all largely just cricketers on schoolboy forms with our counties. Today's Under-19s are all fully contracted. It meant that our outlook was certainly more modest. I remember thinking that if I could play for England Under-19s I would have a good chance of at least making a living at cricket. I never contemplated Test cricket at that age.

But even now, the Under-19 standard is certainly not up to the first- class mark. Take Marcus Trescothick, a genuine England prospect. Earlier in the year I was worried that he would be denied important first- class experience with Somerset when the junior tourists' games came up. In fact, he was out of form and the Somerset side when called up. Nevertheless, he still made 195 runs for only once out in the two junior games.

The more important point, though, is that the TCCB seems intent on promoting these games as the real thing. If the TCCB believes they warrant this treatment, then an Under-19 appearance should constitute a commitment to a country.

I do not blame Gallian. Congratulations to him on making his Test debut. The rules are as they stand and he is entitled to take advantage of them. But if the TCCB is going to enhance the profile of the Under-19 series, then it should change the rules so that representative cricket only up to Under-16 level has no bearing on which country players are eligible to represent at Test level.

If the Under-19 games are becoming more high profile, the full touring side's fixtures against the counties are moving in the opposite direction. Nowadays, their only purpose seems to be to sell hospitality boxes to companies who invite clients to see the shell of a Test team play against a scratch county XI.

The bonus prize-money on offer is an irrelevance. The games will never have a hard, competitive edge, or be popular with supporters. Most spectators will have had plenty of other opportunities to see the bulk of the touring Test team. In the past, the county game against the tourists was the chance to see a Walcott or a Weekes in the flesh, but today at, for example, my county Northamptonshire, the members and locals have already seen Curtly Ambrose playing for them trying to bowl out Brian Lara playing for Warwickshire.

When England tour, there is little cricket played outside the Test matches once they have started. Often there are back-to-back Tests over the Christmas and New Year period.

Over the years, the game has changed. The traditional tourists' itinerary needs an overhaul. As do the qualification rules relating to Under-19 fixtures.

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