Interview with Ranji cricketer Kaustub Pawar who alleges Nepal U-19 captain is overage by few years
For decades, India's cricket hierarchy has been plagued by age fraud. Several allegations have been levied on state boards for ignoring the restriction and fielding over-aged cricketers. Now, there is an allegation that this seems to have hit international tournaments.
Mumbai Ranji Trophy cricketer Kaustub Pawar has accused Nepal U-19 captain Raju Rijal of being over the designated age of participation at the ICC U-19 World Cup.
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, he said: “When I used to play school cricket, he used to play with us. His name was Raju Sharma, he was a Nepali settled in Mumbai. He was the captain of the U-15 Mumbai team. He came to the city when he was around 13, and he played for around five to six years.
“Raju was a stalwart of the team, and he left the U-15 team with me. So we were the same age, I am sure he is 25 years old as I am the same.”
He captained Mumbai’s U-15 team, everyone knows him as Raju Sharma: Pawar
A part of the Anjuman-I-Islam Allana school team, Sharma is said to have risen up the ranks quickly, thanks to his heavy-hitting during the mid overs. Stellar performances, including a Man of the Series performance at the Giles Shield Cross tournament, saw Sharma selected as Mumbai's U-15 captain.
“I was shocked when I switched on my television set, I saw Raju Rijal, but there was no chance he was not Raju Sharma. Your face structure and batting style doesn't change over time. He hasn't got a beard and is short, hence it's not a direct giveaway, but if you ask any cricketer from that time they will recognise him,” Pawar added.
Sharma went on to represent Mumbai at the U-17 and U-19 levels before eventually fading out from Mumbai cricket’s higher echelons.
“If you have a glance on my social media post, you can see that there are other cricketers from that time who can recognise him, it's not just me. I clearly remember that he was a part of that during our Vengsarkar selection camp, he was selected along with me. I was the man of the series and he was going to be the captain. That very year he left with me,” Pawar said.
Post captaining the U-15 team, Sharma's performances were on the decline, as he failed to make the U-17 squad, apart from one solitary appearance. Pawar said, “He made an appearance for the U-17 and U-19 squad, but I never saw him after that. We played with the guy for more than five years, I know that's him and it's a guarantee.”
If Pawar's claims are true, Rijal is seven years older than the permitted age to participate at the event. Such a blatant misdemeanour only increases suspiciousness of this practice being more heavily rampant across the world.
We knew he was moving to Nepal, but never knew he would do this: Pawar
The Thane-based cricketer also added that he chose to speak out because it is an unfair system. He added, “I mean you have young cricketers there who are 15-16, now there is a 25-year-old who stagnated during his career and he is mixing it up with the big boys. That is unfair on so many budding talents in the country.
“I think the reason why it was so easy for him was because he knew Nepali from before. At the U-19 level, he couldn't match up to the skill level, so I heard a lot of rumours about him leaving for Nepal, but I never knew he would be upto this.”
A quick glance through domestic junior cricket's history books does show a certain 'Raju Sharma' representing and captaining the Mumbai U-15 squad. He took three wickets and scored 34 runs during a 2005/06 Polly Umirgar Trophy match against Baroda. His registered birth date for the tournament was 18 October 1990 in Ramnagar, Maharashtra.
Rijal's registered birth date for the on-going ICC Under-19 World Cup is 26 September 1996 in Dhangadi, Nepal.
The above scorecard can be found here – courtesy Cricket Archive.
Pawar added, “I hope action is taken against him immediately, and what I don't understand is why is the ICC not cracking down on this? It is unfair for all players, and this is not the first time he's doing this, if I'm not wrong he has played international junior tournaments in other age categories.”
Pawar is a renowned cricketer in Mumbai, having played 27 first-class matches – scoring 1449 runs at an average of 33.69. He was part of the victorious Mumbai side that won the Ranji Trophy in 2012-13 and opened for the domestic giants in the final.
A Facebook user named Vinod Deshpande, who claims to be a coach, backed Pawar’s comments on Facebook stating: “KP, you are right. Raju Sharma was in summer camp MIG MCA team when I was coach of MIG camp under 19. That is 5 years ago.”
However, Rijal was quick to dismiss these claims, he told Cricwizz, “II don’t have any idea about this. I am not in social media.”