06th October 2015
It's been a hectic three months or so for Rahul Dravid, the India A and India Under-19 coach.
Since assuming charge in June, the former India captain has overseen some spectacular performances from the 'A' side. His first assignment, the two-match four-day 'Test' series against Australia A, ended in a 0-1 defeat, but since then, the 'A' team has been on a roll, winning a triangular series with Australia A and South Africa A as the other prongs, and defeating the last named 1-0 in another two-match 'Test' series. Dravid also oversaw a 2-1 victory over a strong Bangladesh A side in a three-match 50-over showdown and masterminded an innings win in the three-day match over the same opposition in Bangalore last week.
Phase one of the Dravid roadshow is over. Now, attention will shift to the Under-19 squad, what with the U-19 World Cup scheduled in Bangladesh early next year. In a lengthy chat with Wisden India, Dravid held forth on all things coaching, insisting that 'A' cricket wasn't necessarily about immediate results but more about thinking long term.
Part One of the two-part series focuses on his stint with the India A side. Excerpts:
What were your aspirations when you took over as India A coach, what were you looking for?
Honestly, when I took over, I recognised that the India A job is just . you get to work with the next group of young Indian cricketers coming through or those people who performed at the Ranji Trophy level and at whom the selectors are looking at as potential replacements in case of injury or loss of form in some of the main guys in various formats. Obviously, with the India A team, when you are working with that group of players, you are looking to see if you can create an environment and create an atmosphere that allows them to be able to express their talent and give their best account of themselves. Really, that's what it is. It's about the selectors looking for performances and saying 'Ok, these guys have performed at the Ranji Trophy level, now we are going to take them up a notch higher, maybe just a notch below the international level'. The 'A' series really bridged that gap between the domestic scene and the international scene. It sits in the middle there; it's about performances and giving people an opportunity and trying to see which one of them actually is able to perform, instead of just aligning with the selectors' vision of trying to fit people in different places in the team that they were looking to fill in. If you look at the India A series, there have been some senior players who have come in, and specifically when selectors have had an eye to look at them in the short term, but there are also some other guys whom the selectors picked with a more long-term view in mind. It is just balancing those two things out.
You are only recently retired, you have a young family - how difficult a decision was it to agree to become the India A and India Under-19 coach?
It's always a difficult decision. Any decision you take, you have to always balance out where you are. I do have a young family, and I have been away from home for a lot of my life, I have travelled a lot and I have spent so much time away. So it's always finding that balance. One of the things I have had to do since taking up this assignment is I have had to cut down on all my other engagements. I am not going to be doing any media stuff, not till the Under-19 World Cup. So, again, it's about finding that balance. If you do something, you have got to make sacrifices and stop doing other things. I am committed to doing this and I have decided not to do any other stuff till this is over.
How crucial is it to have a settled India A side?
I think it is quite important. The India A spot is one that should be earned. And it shouldn't be just distributed to lots of people. India A should mean exactly what it is. It is the next Indian team, it is the team just below the Indian team and, like I said, there will be some players in that who you are picking with a more long-term view in mind. Not that if they perform, you will pick them straightaway into the Indian team. There are others who are on that cusp. So it's a balance of the two but you want to try and ensure that that group of players, you sort of keep them together. You give them as many opportunities as you possibly can. Of course, there will be a few changes. There will be people who miss out, who don't do well. There are others who are performing on the domestic circuit this year. The guys who were picked this year across the formats that we played in were people who performed last year in the domestic season. Now they have had a chance to play, they have had the series and now they go back to domestic cricket now and hopefully they perform and they can come back in. But if they don't, then there will be other people who will be there to make their mark. There was a consistency in selection right through this India A series, which I think was something that both the selectors and me were quite keen on doing.
How big a say did you have in the selection of these sides?
I think it was more discussional. I didn't attend selection committee meetings, but there was a fair amount of discussion with me, and my views were sought on certain things. But, really, I see my role more as being able to coach the team the selectors select. I am sure there will be opinions and views that they will share with me and ask me but, at this level, I am not so fussed about having a say in every selection or having a say in everything. The selectors watch a lot more cricket than I do, so you've got to really go with a lot of what they say. And, really, my job, I see it as coaching the team that they select.
How do you define coaching, especially at this level?
Coaching is probably a wrong word. I think at this level, it's more managing I'd say than coaching because at this level and especially at this stage in time, you are not really looking to change too much in people's techniques and the way they are playing. Like I said earlier, this is about performances. The guys who come here are at the cusp of playing for India and performances matter. A hundred or a five-wicket haul can actually turn things around for them and give them a spot in the Indian side. So, at this late stage in the day, you don't want to go around changing too much in their technique or changing too many things. The fact that they have performed and got to this level means they have got a system that works. They have got something that's worked and given them success, and you don't want to be tinkering and changing with that too much. It's more really about managing the environment; it's more about talking to them a little bit about the mental side of the game, sharing some of your experiences. Sure, you are in a sense talking a little bit about technical things and a few changes here and there but it's really minor adjustments, things that you know can be changed in the short term. You are not going to change people's style, batting techniques or bowling techniques completely at this stage because it is not really about that. You can't do that in the short term. Especially when you meet people two or three days before a game and they have got to perform in that game, you don't want to be going down that route.
One of the things on which there is a lot of stress is situational awareness. Is that something that can be taught?
I think it is about conversations, having conversations before events, after events happen. Things happen during a game, it's just reading of the game, reading of situations, reading of how players have reacted to situations, what might be another alternative. When people play certain shots, what are the options. It's about giving them - in a lot of the one-on-one conversations, giving them targets and goals for the season. Looking and saying 'Ok, these are your strengths, these are areas that I think you can work on, these are shots that I think you can look to build on'. For example, if you look at a batsman and you say 'Ya, I think you need to develop a sweep', you can't ask him to bring out the sweep in a couple of days' time. But you say, 'over the period of the season, I think that potentially a sweep will help you become a much better batsman in these kind of situations'. You are more looking at and challenging them to improve certain skills over a long period of time, not expecting them to execute those skills tomorrow.
Again, at the 'A' level, is it only about numbers or do you also look for that indefinable X factor?
You got to balance it out. You can't just say . yes, you are looking for certain things, but you are also looking for performances. You are not picking people simply because someone has scored more runs than someone, then anyone could pick a team, right? You are not going to pick someone who has scored 200 runs against someone who has scored 900 runs but the debates of these things really happen when the differential is not much, when there is a small difference between people and then you have to pick one or the other, then you are looking for - then it becomes an opinion thing. But it still has to be close for it to be opinion-based. You still have to put performances on the board, you can't rely only on the X factor. You can't only rely on saying I have got the X factor. What is the X factor? The X factor must lead to performances. But, conversely to that, you can't just pick people based on the number of runs and saying he scored more runs than him, he should be picked. So you are looking at situations - when the runs were scored, you are looking at the kind of attacks people score runs against, under what pressure. These are the kind of X factor things which you are analysing. You are looking at these kind of things - people performing under pressure, people performing under different kinds of attacks, what is the range of shots that they have, how they bowled on flatter wickets, how they bowled on turners. For a spinner, it is alright to get wickets on a turner. If you judge just by wickets, a guy might have played in three turning wickets and he might have more wickets than one who has played on three flat wickets. but potentially he might not be a better bowler. You have just got to weigh the balance of it. But still, performances matter - you've got to put performances on the board.
The nomenclature was different at Rajasthan Royals - team mentor. But did that stint prepare you for this role?
In a way, yes. The fact that I was in and around it. After playing, I spent two seasons with Rajasthan Royals, two months each of really being around a group of young players, working with young players, being around nets and practices. Seeing it from the other side was important. I was doing other stuff as well but that has been a vital experience for me, the fact that I have had a chance to look at the team from actually not being a player and seeing what it is like and spending time with Rajasthan. It's a little bit different though. In Rajasthan, at the IPL, it is a lot more results-oriented and results-based because it is a tournament and you are looking to produce results and you are looking to qualify or win the tournament. But here, it's a little bit more big-picture thinking. I think it's slightly different but, to answer your question, it was a good preparation.
What are your own preparations as a coach as opposed to when you prepared as a player?
I think the coach's job really finishes once the game starts. So a lot of my work is done before the game. As a player, a lot of it was happening during the game, once the game started. But as a coach, once the game starts, you have very little control over the game. You are just giving the odd suggestion. It then becomes the captain's team, he runs the team .
And how difficult is it for someone like you, having played and captained for so long, to reconcile to that?
No, it's not (difficult). That way, I am actually quite relaxed about that. I know that's the role. I have seen other coaches, I have worked with so many coaches in my time and I have seen how it works. I am very clear about the fact that my job is really about preparation of the team and preparing them in the practices, in the lead-up, in the meeting and getting all of that right and getting the environment right. Once the game starts, really, it is up to the captain and the players to take it forward. In the middle of a one-day game, there is only so many suggestions you can offer, there's only so many things you can say - you don't want to confuse people. Once the game starts, I tend to take sort of more a background role and step back. But in the preparation to the game and in the lead-up to games, that's really when I think you play a lot bigger role.
How much pressure do you put on yourself?
Not at all. Again, one of the things I realised very early as a coach is that you don't control too many things. A lot of it is . I think the part that you can really control is the preparation and you got to try and help the players as much as you possibly can but you got to realise that at the end of the day, it's about the players executing their skills and their ability to execute the skills. The success really lies with the players. And again, players must take responsibility when things go wrong. That's the way I treated it as a player, and even as a coach, I see my role really in the preparation of players and giving them the best chance to succeed. But whether they go out there and execute their skills . a lot is down to them.
You have been credited with raising the profile of 'A' cricket in India. Seldom has the India A team been in so much focus.
Like I said, with the experience at Rajasthan, it's something that I really enjoy doing. Short experiences that I have had, I have really enjoyed them. And I hope the players that have worked with me have enjoyed it as well. It's great fun. It's a nice group of players to work with. I have to be realistic as well and totally honest to say that at this stage in my life, the time commitment only allows me to do as much as an 'A' series or an Under-19 series asks of me. I just cannot do an international team at this stage and so it has worked both ways. It has worked well for me, and I hope it has worked well for the team as well. The important thing is to have more and more 'A' series because I really think that it does bridge that gap between the domestic and international level. A lot of the other international teams actually do send a lot of their international players. The Australian team sent some very experienced 'A' players, so did South Africa, and so has Bangladesh as well. That was really great. Irrespective of win or lose. I don't really see the 'A' series as winning or losing, you will win some and you will lose some, nobody will remember it in a year's time, whether you won an 'A' series or you lost an 'A' series. Nobody cares, really. But what is important is the opportunities that you have been able to give to players. It just gives some more clarity for the selectors. It gives players an opportunity to perform at a higher level, to learn, grow, to develop themselves as cricketers. Even if they don't have a good 'A' series, if they can take something away from it, learn something and then come back better cricketers, a year's time in another 'A' series or in another season, then I think it has been a fruitful exercise and we have gained from it. I don't think you can view 'A' series purely as we are gaining something from just results. You have got to see it a little more broadly and that was the goal as well - to try and give as many opportunities as possible to everyone in the squad. Playing time, not focussing so much on the results but trying to give everyone at least some opportunity and that's the hardest part I found, is that everyone who comes here has performed and has done well. All are craving this opportunity and only 11 players can play. So trying to find that balance of giving everyone an opportunity in the limited chances that you have. You don't want to give people just one game and that's been a bit of the juggling act that has been tough to follow. But I am glad, that's been the good thing in working with the selectors that we are all clear on that side of things, so it's easy to then work with them to ensure we have given everyone an opportunity. Not everyone has got the same opportunities and we have possibly been not able to be as fair to everyone as possible, but we have tried.
Do you remember your first India A game?
Do I remember my first India A game? I do, actually. We played a series against England, a three-'Test' series (in January-February 1995), and we lost all three. But it was great to be a part of that because it taught me so much. I learnt a lot about international cricket, there were some very good English players who played. Suddenly it shook you up to the fact that you were scoring a lot of runs in domestic cricket and this was a level higher than that and the standard was tough. A lot of those India A boys went on to play for India. We had Sourav (Ganguly) in that team, Pravin Amre captained us, Vikram Rathour was there, Saba Karim played, Amol Muzumdar was there. So it was a pretty strong India A side and there was a lot that you learnt. And one of the things was that you also realise that it is also a very stressful time for a lot of these young players because they are competing with each other. They are competing for maybe very few slots in the Indian side. And so you want to make it as relaxed for them as possible without putting too much pressure on them. There is already a lot of pressure on them.
It helps too, doesn't it, that there are more games now as opposed to in an earlier era?
The opportunities are much more now. Even just the Ranji games. When we were playing, you could be playing in the South Zone, if you were lucky and your team qualified, you played the extra game in the knockouts. Sometimes you play four games in the season and your whole season was over. I was telling some of the boys that there were times early on when I first started playing when my whole season finished in six weeks. You start the Ranji season and if you didn't qualify, you played five games and that's it. There wasn't even a one-day tournament those days, you played one Subbiah Pillai tournament at the beginning or the end. And your cricket was over and you had to wait till the next November because if you didn't get into the South Zone team or you didn't get into the Irani or a Board XI or your Ranji Trophy team didn't qualify, it's over. It's not like that now. These boys play - they start now (in August-September) and there is a lot of cricket right up to March, then the IPL, so many opportunities. And I think that's great. One of the things I like, and obviously that has taken a lot of the pressure off a lot of them, there's just a lot more opportunity now to show your skill, which is the way it should be. I am glad for that. It's just that it will be nice if there are a lot of 'A' tours because that gives them an opportunity to show their skills at a slightly higher level than the domestic standard, which is I think very critical.
Plenty of matches now as India A coach, has anyone stood out for you?
I think it will be unfair for me to start mentioning single names, that's not something I should be doing as a coach. But I have been very excited with some of the talent that I have seen. Some of the conversations I have had with the selectors. I will say that there is a lot of batting talent in India coming through. Some very good young batsmen. I have been excited with some of the spinners I have seen as well. The fast bowlers, there has been a bit of potential but I think we all recognise that we need to see something more from some of the fast bowlers. That is an area . There is a great opportunity for a lot of the young fast bowlers coming through because it's probably easiest now to break into the Indian side if you are a quality quick bowler than it is in any other department. There's opportunities there. But I have been excited with the talent, there are lessons that we have learnt. There are lessons as a coach that I have learnt and stuff that I will be sharing with the board as well on things that I think in general where we can be better. It's good, the exercise has given me a much better understanding of actually where Indian cricket is and where the talent sitting underneath the national level is at the moment.
With excerpts from:http://www.wisdenindia.com/interview/dravid-coach-its-balance-big-picture-thinking/182008
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