Under-19 World Cup not an end in itself, says Dravid

08th October 2015

In the last few months, the Board of Control for Cricket in India has been vocal about exploring the possibility of separate coaches for the Indian Test and limited-overs sides. Understandably, that has created a buzz and triggered speculation about the possibility of Rahul Dravid taking over as the Test coach sometime next year.

Dravid, currently the coach of the India A and Under-19 teams, tells Wisden India that it is too premature for him to even consider that possibility. Having shared his experiences of coaching the India A side, he looks ahead to the challenge of shaping the fortunes of the Under-19 lads, especially with the Under-19 World Cup scheduled to be held in Bangladesh early next year. He doesn't shy away either from talking about his older son Samit, the 10-year-old who is already making waves in school-level cricket with a batting style totally different to his illustrious father's. Excerpts:

Talk of India having different coaches for the Test and limited-overs teams has gathered pace in the last couple of months. What's your take on that?

Unless it's absolutely necessary, it's not a route I'd take. But I do understand that in today's day and age, you look at the schedules of teams, the pressure on even coaches to be able to spend 10-11 months away from home and families is not easy. So I think if you are forced to do it, you might have to consider it but in an ideal scenario, probably not. You'd want to go with one coach who does it but I do recognise that the reality is that in today's day and age, you do sometimes have to consider things like this.

If the BCCI do go down that route and Rahul Dravid is asked to take over as the Test coach 8-9 months down the road .

I don't want to look that far ahead. I don't want to look and think about the India job. Obviously, I knew this (him being in the running for India coach) would happen once I agreed to do this (India A and Under-19) - people would start asking me whether the next logical step was the next one. And honestly, in my mind, it is not the next logical step for me. This (India A and Under-19) is what I am focussed on, this is all I can manage at this point of time. It's what I am happy doing. This is what I see myself doing, so I don't . I never know what the future might hold for me but, at the moment, I haven't given it a single moment of thought about wanting to even consider doing the India job. Or any other international job, for that matter!

In some ways, is the real difficult part of your coaching stint just starting - the Under-19s?

I don't know if there is an easy or a difficult part. Look, the Under-19s, it's difficult in the sense that for the Under-19s unfortunately, in the last couple of years or so, there hasn't been a lot of cricket. We are trying to ensure that we get to play some games at least before the World Cup, but also ensure that the players have to be relaxed, not too tired. It's going to be that balance. The Under-19s, obviously you only get the team in November. The next month (October) is solely going to be the Indian Under-19 boys playing their domestic cricket and it's really selection matches for them, for the junior selection committee to select 22-24 guys and for us to bring that with the selectors down to 15 before the World Cup. My job will start in November once the selectors have a sense of what the best 24 is.

There is also the genuine possibility of the Under-19 boys being overawed by the presence of Rahul Dravid.

It will be important to put them at ease and I will try my best. I'd like to believe - at least I'd hope so - that I am an easy guy to hang with. Once you get to know people . I think the youngsters of today are a lot more confident, they are a lot more exposed than we were. They have a lot more exposure. You are just hoping that it's fine. But yeah, there will be a period where I will have to go out and try and make myself accessible and try and make them feel comfortable just as much as I will be encouraging them that being shy and not coming forward and speaking up and talking not only to me but the other coaches as well is not going to do anything for their cricket or their development as well. Sometimes, you have got to push yourself out of being shy and being an introvert because, in the end, it is actually for your own good, right? So we will make an effort. I understand that could be an area that we need to work on.

In that regard, will the fact that you have a young kid yourself who is playing cricket help break the ice?

I don't know! Bringing up kids and coaching Under-19 kids is a bit different but the fact that I have played India Under-19 myself will help. That I have been through the journey myself, that's going to be the more important thing. I know what it feels like. I know what it feels like to walk into a room and what it feels like seeing Kapil Dev, or come to a national camp here in Bangalore and the Indian team is practising at the same time and having a chance to watch (Dilip) Vengsarkar bat and (Sanjay) Manjrekar bat as a kid. I know what that feels like, so I am hoping I can understand what it feels like for some of these guys.

How much cricket do you talk with Samit?

Not a lot, I must admit. The kids enjoy watching cricket, so during the IPL time, there are a lot more discussions about cricket because they are watching the IPL games and they are following what's happening. Also during the Ashes. It's more really around the matches that are being played.

Any discussions on his batting, on his approach to batting?

No, no, I don't really get into trying to coach him too much. I just want him to enjoy it and just play the game, have some fun with it. He plays different sports at the moment, which is good - they (both his sons) play football and they play cricket, they swim. So that's nice. He is too young at the moment for anything more.

Even though he is only 10, the fact that he is making runs and has a famous surname means whether you like it or not, he will attract a lot of attention .

Yeah, I get it. That's something he will learn to deal with. It's not easy, we wouldn't want it that way but I guess that's what it is, that's the reality of it and that's what it is going to be. I guess there are some advantages of being my son, there are going to be some disadvantages of being my son. Sometimes, you want to grow up as children in an anonymous situation, without pressure and without people watching you, noticing you. Especially when you are growing up, you want to be a bit anonymous, you want to just do your thing. That might not be possible for him. But that's the way it is and he has got to deal with it.

How do you see his batting? Is he in the Rahul mould?

He's ok, he's got good hand-eye coordination. But no, he just smashes it and that is what I encourage him to do - just smash it (big laugh).

How much of Under-19 cricket in the country have you followed?

I have followed the scores, I will follow the scores quite a bit, get in touch with the selectors. I am in touch with the selectors now, they will be watching a lot of cricket. I have a sense of some of the names that are doing the rounds but I don't want to pre-judge things. One of the things that I am very clear about is that I don't want to have a pre-conceived notion going into this month of Under-19 cricket. We want to pick the performers, pick the guys who do well and everyone's got an opportunity to do so. This month, there is going to be a lot of cricket for them. First their inter-state games, then there is a zonal competition, there is a Challenger that the board has organised between the top team and two other teams that the selectors will select. There will be opportunities from that and hopefully we can then organise a few more international games for them and put it down to performances rather than looking at the past. We will see who are the guys who perform. Also, conditions in Bangladesh, we are looking at what are the kind of skills we will need for Bangladesh, what are the kind of cricketers we are going to need for Bangladesh and trying to identify those cricketers amongst the talent that is available.

Unlike with the 'A' squad, the Bangladesh campaign will probably be judged solely on the basis of results .

It is a World Cup but, again, the thing with Under-19s and a lot of these things is - it is a big tournament and you want to try and win it. But in the larger scheme of things, it is also not really the end in itself. You want to ensure that you bring players along who go on to represent India. I don't think you can solely focus on the results even at an Under-19 level. Yeah, sure, results are important, I am not saying they are not important but it's also about how you bring players along. I think there is a bit more coaching to be done at the Under-19 level, looking at the skill a little bit more and just bringing on the next generation of cricketers. Obviously in India, any tournament and any team is a hype, you can't help it. It's more the fact that cricket is such a big game in this country. Look, there is going to be hype around some of these guys but I will definitely be trying to bring that balance and trying to recognise that winning an Under-19 World Cup doesn't guarantee anything. The players who play in the Under-19 World Cup, it doesn't guarantee them a straight ride into the Indian team. There's a lot more hard work that needs to be done in and around that. So yes, the hype might come from outside but internally, there is going to be no hype about the Under-19 team or the Under-19 World Cup from our side. At least from my side.

You have said in the past that once you freed up your mind a bit and took yourself a little less seriously, you enjoyed your cricket a lot more. Is that something you will be talking to the boys about?

I think a large part of my conversations are around these topics because a lot of the guys at the India A level and the Under-19 level are very much in that stage where they are very intense about their cricket, they are desperate to do well. They are desperate to play for India and it is just about managing that desperation. It's about ensuring that sometimes you want to have hunger, you want to have desire but you want to ensure that you don't cross that line where it becomes too much pressure and you stop enjoying the game. It's about finding that balance. It's not easy; it's easier said in words and you just share your experiences with players. But you also know that they have to live through it as well, they have to experience these things to actually understand it as well. Just because I say you relax doesn't mean somebody is going to relax. You need to experience these things yourself and I understand that. But it's just about sharing some of your experiences, what you have gone through, what's helped you and what's not helped you and how you see it. Maybe just helping them by suggesting things that work for you. It might not work for them but it's about saying to them, 'Why don't you try this, why don't you try that' and a lot of the conversations are around managing the environment around you in a critical stage in your career as India As and India Under-19s.

There was a time when Under-19 cricket was a shortcut to the senior national team, but that doesn't seem the case anymore.

It's become more and more difficult for that to happen just because of the amount of cricket being played now. Especially with the IPL coming through and so much of more cricket being played, it is a little bit more difficult for people to just straightaway break in from the Under-19s. You find that in the long run, a lot of the guys who have played India Under-19 actually end up being closer to the Indian team, but they take a bit of time. There are very few cases - Virat Kohli is probably one example I can give of a guy who has broken in a lot earlier - but most of the other guys and most of these guys who I work with in the 'A' team have all played India Under-19, but to break even into the 'A' team has taken them two or three years after the Under-19s. I think it is rare, you will still have the odd case where you see an exceptional guy, some exceptional brilliance and something you see is ready but I think it is becoming more and more rare, and that's the way it should be. Honestly, people need to have that experience, playing a few years of first-class cricket, it does you a world of good.

How crucial is it to manage the players once they are just out of the Under-19s?

I think it is a challenge. A lot of the times, what happens is that the boys, once they graduate out of Under-19s, they find it difficult and you can understand why. Till they are Under-19, they are probably the best players in their teams, they are very well looked after, you have got a great system, you have a lot of games at the Under-19 level, they are always at the NCA, they are getting the best of facilities, they are getting the best of coaching, they are very well looked after by the board. And suddenly, they leave the Under-19s and they go back to their state associations and not all state associations look after their players very well. Suddenly, they find themselves from very experienced, very good players at the Under-19 level, you become used to success and you become used to being certainties in teams, to suddenly going to a maybe strong Ranji Trophy side and not even getting a look-in for a couple of years, not even getting a look-in to the Ranji Trophy team. And that is not easy. Suddenly, you start questioning yourself, you start questioning the future, so that's the challenge. And sometimes, they take a few years to actually get over that and find their way back and find their feet. All you can say is you hope they find their feet again and that's what you are trying to prepare them for. Some associations, players go back and they are lucky to get into the state side. For example, if there was an Under-19 kid doing well at the moment in Karnataka, if he were to try to break into the Karnataka Ranji Trophy team, it is not going to be easy with such a strong team performing really well. What happens to him then? And especially if the local scene in those cities and in those states is not very good, you can easily lose a player. That's the challenge the state associations need to recognise. They need to handhold maybe some of these Under-19 players when they come back. I not saying you need to play every one of them but you need to handhold them for a couple of years till they establish themselves hopefully in the Ranji set-up.

With excerpts from:http://www.wisdenindia.com/interview/under-19-world-cup-itself-dravid/182126

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