‘Rahul Dravid’s role in Indian cricket’s backroom has expanded from being the India A and India Under-19 head coach to becoming the head of cricket at the National Cricket Academy (NCA). But with the Under-19 World Cup set to be held in January-February next year, the former India captain has been in Lucknow to oversee the ongoing one-day series between India Under-19s and Afghanistan Under-19s. The series is likely to be last one before the junior selection panel, along with Dravid, pick the World Cup squad.
On the sidelines of the fourth one-day game, Dravid spoke at length on topical subjects such as mental health of cricketers, the likely impact of India’s pace renaissance on junior players, and the discussions about the future of the NCA with his former team-mate Sourav Ganguly, the BCCI president.
India Under-19 and India A have been almost
unbeatable since you took charge, winning against all teams everywhere. What do
you think has gone right?
I think there’s a lot of talent in this
country, for starters. More than winning – which I’ve always said is not a
marker by which I honestly judge the success of a programme at this level – for
the success of any of these developmental programmes [what matters] is how many
of the players can we move on to the next level. The heartening thing for me is
that, if you go back over the last three or four years that I’ve been involved
in this – it’s not just me, obviously a lot of other coaches and people have
been involved – is for us to see how many have gone on to become established
players in their Ranji Trophy teams. Some of them have gone on to captain their
teams at 21.
I’d like to believe that in this cycle, over
the last 14-16 months, nearly 40-45 boys have played for India Under-19. I
think that’s the real credit. I’m really hoping that within the next two years,
at least 30-35 of them go into first-class teams. If 10-15 of them establish
themselves in their first-class teams, that will be a success for us.
But the increase in performance and results
has been more marked since you’ve taken over. Is there something being done
that wasn’t done previously?
We’ve been able to convince the board and
ensure the boys are playing more cricket at this level. I definitely feel there
needs to be a step-up in level. For our Under-19 boys, there needs to be a
step-up from Under-19 domestic tournaments if we want to develop these boys to
be able to establish themselves quickly in first-class cricket. To do that we
need to give them a slightly higher level of cricket. Same thing with India A.
Our domestic cricket is good, but the India A programme is critical.
The good thing for us is that a lot of other
countries play a lot of their international players in the ‘A’ teams, whereas
we might focus more on younger players. Maybe because their numbers are
smaller. I have played against teams like South Africa and Australia A, who had
seven or eight of their international players in the team against you. That is
really good competition and the standard is definitely higher than the
first-class game, the pressure is more. Then that helps build confidence, if
you succeed at that level against some of those guys.
The other thing is, whenever we’ve been in
control of the pitches, one of the things I’ve tried to do is ensure we play on
good, sporting pitches. Leave a lot of grass on it, with a view of long-term
development of these players. Not necessarily wanting to win that series, but
more like saying, ‘Hey, what’s beneficial to these guys in the longer run?’
It’s actually been quite a satisfying three or four years for me personally. I
really hope we can keep this going, and keep building, growing and improving
How do you rate India’s prospects at the
next Under-19 World Cup?
We are very confident with the process and
preparation we’ve set up. At the start of the cycle, I tell a lot of these guys
who are pushing for spots: ‘We’ll give you enough opportunities to put your
hand up and select yourself.’ And honestly, hand on heart, at least 40-45 boys
can say, ‘Hey, we got a chance. We got opportunities.’
What might happen at this level is that boys
miss out in a particular year. They’re all growing still. I see this a lot at
this age, that people have bad years. You see them playing very well one year
and then suddenly they struggle the next. So they don’t get picked on form. But
I always try and tell them, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not about getting selected for
the World Cup. In the long run, nobody’s going to remember if you played in the
Under-19 World Cup or not.’
It’s about: Can I become a successful
first-class cricketer and from there, go on to play for India? There will be
very good players who are going to miss out on the final 15. But like I always
them, ‘Don’t lose heart. It’s just one World Cup. It doesn’t define your
career. You will go back and play Under-23, play for your first-class teams,
and in one or two years you can easily catch up with some of these boys who
have played in the World Cup.’
Just because you’ve played a World Cup
doesn’t mean you will play for India, and just because you haven’t played a
World Cup doesn’t mean you won’t. It’s a nice achievement to have, but it’s not
the be-all and end-all of everything. Look at Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devdutt
Padikkal – they didn’t make our World Cup squad. And they have started doing
really well for their first-class teams.
What would you say is India’s strength?
We have got a good balance in the team. We
probably had more good allrounders in last year’s team. People like Kamlesh
[Nagarkoti] and Shivam [Mavi] could all bat. So last year’s World Cup team
could bat all the way to No. 10. But this year too, the selectors have done a
pretty good job in picking a good side. Depending on the conditions in South
Africa, if they aid fast bowlers, we have got a pretty good attack. We have got
batting all the way down to seven-eight-nine. We have got spinners, if
The issue of mental health is in the
spotlight at the moment. What would you advise younger players on this so that
they can deal with it best?
It is a big challenge. This is a tough game.
There is so much competition, a lot of pressure, and kids are playing all year
round now. It is a game in which you do sometimes spend a lot of time waiting
around, having a lot of time to think.
So, you really need to look after yourself
on and off the field, and look after stuff like mental health. That’s again
something that, as much as we talk to these boys about, it’s really important
to maintain a certain level of balance in everything you do. Be able to find
that balance between not getting too excited when you succeed and not getting
too disappointed when you fail. I just think being able to lead a slightly
balanced life potentially helps.
We are also putting a few things in place at
the NCA wherein we want to be able to give people an opportunity to talk about
these things and address some of these things, and have people that they can
speak to. So, yes, there has been some work on that as well, wherein eventually
we’ll get to a point where hopefully we should have professionals on board. I
think sometimes some of these things need to be handled by professionals.
I don’t think some of the coaches, or some
of us, have the ability to deal with some of the issues. Some things we might
be able to, but there may be some things where we might need to look at
professional help. It’s one of the things we are definitely keen on doing at
the NCA: giving some of these boys access to some level of professional help if
they do require it.
There’s been a renaissance in Indian fast
bowling at the international level. Do you see the same sort of enthusiasm
among fast bowlers coming up?
Yes, definitely. Every year now in Under-19
cricket, we’ve had some very good fast bowlers. Last time, we had three of them
in Kamlesh, Shivam and Ishan [Porel]. This year also you will see some good
fast bowlers in the team.
When you have role models and you have
heroes like the senior team… I think what Ishant [Sharma], [Mohammed] Shami,
Umesh [Yadav], Bhuvneshwar Kumar and [Jasprit] Bumrah are doing, is they are
actually in a way becoming role models for a lot of younger generation of boys
who believe now they can be fast bowlers. They can bowl fast and be successful
in India. It’s great to see that. Obviously we had people like Kapil [Dev], Sri
[Javagal Srinath], Zaheer [Khan] and all in the past. But as a group, this is
probably one of the best fast-bowling attacks we have ever had. I think that’s
a great inspiration for a lot of these young boys.
In the past, crowds in India would come to
see batsmen. Do you think in the future they’ll be going to watch fast bowlers
intimidating batsmen with pace and bounce?
I hope so. Now that I have retired, I don’t
mind the others being intimidated (laughs).
A lot of young pace bowlers are coming up,
but one of the major concerns are injuries they pick up early in their careers.
It is part and parcel of being a fast
bowler. Unfortunately, it’s a very unnatural activity. One of the things that
has improved in India is the focus on fitness and physiotherapy, the care that
we are able to give. Some of the facilities that our Under-19 boys have today
are amazing; access to some of the best physios and trainers at the NCA. Indian
teams of the past didn’t have that kind of support. It is there, but you will
still have injuries.
Fast bowling, especially for young bodies
with people still growing up and developing, it’s just going to happen. We have
to get better at managing it. But unfortunately, in this sport, there’s no such
thing as: ‘I will keep playing, and I will keep bowling fast and not get
injured (chuckles).’ Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that, so you have to
accept it and work out ways to minimise that – that’s all we can do. Will we
ever get to a stage where we will have no injuries? Unfortunately, not.
As science develops, as research improves…
that’s again an area we need to do a little bit more, in research – on our own
bodies, our own bowlers, right from junior and camp level. We are doing a
little bit of that now, starting it at the NCA and zonal camps. We are doing
more research, collecting more data and information on our cricketers. We are
using data and research that has been done on different bodies [than ours]: Caucasians,
English and Australian players.
We need to do our own research, we need to
do data collection on our own athletes and that will give us insights. A lot of
that process has already started; it’s been going on for about two years now
and all that is helping us in a large way. We need to keep doing more of that
and improve at that. That’s really one of the things I want to drive forward at
the NCA level as well.
What are your thoughts on the next
generation of spinners?
Spin is a little bit more of a challenge.
There are a number of good spinners in the country, don’t get me wrong. But
because of the amount of white-ball cricket, which has increased with Twenty20
cricket and there are so many domestic tournaments with the white-ball, it’s a
bit tougher for younger spinners to balance that. That’s one of the challenges
we face at the Under-19 level: for young spinners to find that balance between
white-ball and red-ball cricket.
Going ahead, that’s one of our goals. We
want to try and work with our spinners, help them improve. How do they make
those adjustments? It’s not that easy for spinners to do it. There is a
challenge from the ranks coming up. But we are still producing good spinners,
don’t get me wrong. Even at Under-19, we have got some good spinners. But this
adjustment from Under-19 cricket to first-class cricket has probably been, from
my experience, easier for batsmen and fast bowlers. It hasn’t been that easy
for spinners. So, we have to keep working on it.
You’re no longer just the head coach of the
Under-19 team or the ‘A’ team, you’re NCA director now. How has your role
It’s changed a little bit in the sense that
this time it’s not as much hands-on with a lot of these boys. I have been
around with them, I was in England and I came here as well. But it’s also
really about working with the coaches we’ve had. We’ve got some really good
coaches for these guys at the moment – Paras [Mhambrey], Hrishi [Hrishikesh
Kanitkar] and Abhay [Sharma]. Top-class coaches, very experienced, who’ve been
in the system.
Paras and Abhay have been with me on both
the other World Cups. So, this really gives us an opportunity to not only
develop players, but also develop our coaches. This is a platform where we
should also be developing and growing our coaches, so we’ve tried to do that at
the Under-19 and India A level. That’s also part of my role as well now. It’s
slightly broader in terms of also helping us identify and develop the next
generation of coaches coming through, giving them a lot more responsibility.
Yes, I’m involved, and around. I’m here and might probably go to the World Cup
for some part, maybe the start or during the preparation phase. But really, I
think it’s been about giving them a lot more freedom and allowing them to
develop and grow.
Through the NCA we’re also going to try and
help a lot of our coaches. We’ve hired Sujith [Somasundar] now, who has come on
as head of education. A part of our goal is to create a programme for coaches
as well, so that we can give them certain skills in which they can develop –
and hopefully then get the opportunities to work at a slightly higher level. I
think a lot of IPL teams miss a trick by not using more domestic talent in the
coaching area and the talent identification area, even if it is as assistants.
That’s my personal opinion.
Ever since Sourav Ganguly took charge as the
president of the BCCI, he has said his priority will be first-class cricket.
What are the areas that require changes in first-class cricket?
It’s the small things in the system that
Sourav probably was mentioning – like ensuring security for first-class
players, the quality of our pitches, the quality of the facilities that
first-class and Under-19 cricketers get to train in, practice in. Fitness,
physiotherapy… all of these things have improved, but it’s just a constant
process. You just have to keep getting better at it..
For many, many years now, we’ve got a pretty
successful system going. We play a lot of matches, people get opportunities.
You just need to keep improving them. Attention to small things, attention to
detail, I would say is something we can maybe focus on and do a bit better.
There’s no such thing as a perfect system. You always learn, and you always
improve. That’s true of players, systems, competitions and everything really.
Does the IPL still remain a favourite route
to gain attention quicker than other formats?
I wouldn’t say that. In the Twenty20 format,
yes, maybe. But I think the selectors have also been very good, in the sense
that they are expecting people to do well in the Ranji Trophy as well. So,
whether it is a Shubman Gill or a Prithvi Shaw from the last batch who came in,
if you look at their performances, they have got into the Indian team not only
based on their IPL runs, but really on their Ranji Trophy runs, their India A
So, the selectors are not only looking at
IPL performances. In the conversations and discussions I have with them, it
becomes very clear to me that they have put a lot of value on domestic cricket,
they have put a lot of value on domestic runs, India A runs. That is really
good to see. If the selectors drive that, then people will understand that it’s
Saurabh Somani in Lucknow – Article Courtesy – espncricinfo.com