Rahul Dravid reflects on coaching India to a record fourth Under-19 World Cup title victory, the processes involved, and the path ahead for the players. Excerpts:
How do you see this victory for the team and for yourself?
I’ve always maintained that this level is not about results. I think its very heartening from the perspective that, what I’ve really liked about this is that the victory is just a part of the process we went through over the last 14-16 months. The number of matches we played, the number of opportunities we gave to people to be a part of the Indian set up. At least 30 boys played for India in different tournaments in different games.
We took a conscious decision of not picking certain boys who played in the last World Cup and were eligible for this World Cup. That would have made the team definitely stronger and would have given us a better chance to win the World Cup. But in my opinion, that wouldn’t have been good for the boys themselves. I don’t believe they should be hanging around playing Under-19 cricket for too long. They had already matured and I think they’re too good for this level. Some of these boys might not have got the opportunity to take up that responsibility – Prithvi (Shaw) might not have captained, Shubman (Gill) might not have had a chance to bat at No. 3 – things like that.
That for me has been a lot more heartening. In the end, it’s nice to have the victory because for the boys it’s a great memory. It’s something they’ll remember, it’s fantastic for them because they’ve put in a lot of hardwork. They go through a lot to get to this stage, so I’m really happy for them. But I’m pleased with the process we went through, I hope we can refine it even in the future, and not focus too much on whether we win or not.
What makes India stand out so much apart from the other opposition?
To be fair, it didn’t look like that when we played in the Asia Cup few months ago. We lost in the Asia Cup even though admittedly it was a different team. But still I think we didn’t play well in the Asia Cup and got beaten by teams that played better than us. I think we prepared well and it sort of all came together. Very heartening, the kind of performances in the knockout stages. We’re definitely a much improved side than the one that played in the first game. To have those kind of margins of victories against those teams – who I thought were pretty good sides as well – it’s heartening. I think everyone seemed switched on, determined. I think the work we put in practise paid off.
Few boys have already become stars. How did the management handle the other players, like Ishan Porel, who were either injured or not getting much chances?
I think huge credit to lot of our physiotherapy department and the fitness trainer. We had few injuries in the team – 50-50, tricky ones. They worked hard with the guys, put in a lot of effort to ensure they were right. Not necessarily, just for the fact that for the boys this was everything they had worked for. Easiest thing for us would have been to send some of them home. We chose to back them and support them. We took those risks, credit to Anand (Date, the Strength and Conditioning trainer) and Yogesh (physio), they really did a fantastic job.
Also at this stage, it’s important to give credit to the NCA. It’s much maligned in my opinion, unfortunately, but when you see Kamlesh (Nagarkoti) and Shivam (Mavi) bowl, when we congratulate ourselves, we should raise a glass to the NCA. All of these boys had over the course of a year managed very carefully at NCA. They had a couple of injuries. The trainers and physios worked hard with them. A lot of this is team effort, it’s not just what I do, it’s also my support staff here, the backing of the NCA, BCCI organising tournaments and games. Selectors did a terrififc job, watched a lot of games. The three of them – Venky, Gyanu and Rakesh, to come up with names and talent, it’s exciting for us to work with that talent.
What will be your advice to the boys from here on?
My advise will be, the conversations we’re already having, is that hopefully they would have enjoyed this, they would learn from it. They’ll reflect on these last not six weeks, but 14 months, and they will take those learnings into first-class cricket. Hopefully this will not be the highlight of their careers. The highlight should come when they lift a big trophy for India or the Ranji Trophy for their state teams. Those should be the highlights. This should be a stepping stone and something that’s a great memory, great friendships and they will cherish them. But the tough part starts now.
How important was coming to New Zealand early ahead of the World Cup?
To be fair, we were not here three weeks before the tournament. We were here about a week before. Maybe eight days or so before the warm up period. The warm-up gave us another week, so 15-16 days in total. I think that phase was very important though. Not many of these boys had played outside the subcontinent before this. Some of them had been to England, but still, these were very different conditions and we gained a lot from that week out here. We were able to rotate the squad. There was a lot of talk ahead of these games that the middle order has not got enough time in the middle. It was true, there was no denying that. But though it was a long time ago, in Napier in the practise games, Riyan (Parag) had got a lot of runs, Harvik (Desai) was batting well. Anukul (Roy) had got a fifty too, so I wasn’t that worried, to be honest. But yeah, you are a bit anxious about the fact that they hadn’t really batted in a game situation, and luckily, there was no high-pressure game situation they had to be called up for. But all of them had enough practice and enough hits leading up to this contest, so we actually felt really confident.
Bunch of boys might not play together again.
It is the end of the road in some ways, so yes, it is a bit emotional. Same was the case in the last edition with those boys. With that last bunch, I was with them only for two or three months. But you do get attached in many ways. It is emotional, though they do stay in touch, but of course, it is not the same thing. Which is why I tried to bring some of them in to play against these boys before they came here. For their own sake, we try and get them to connect with each other and get together as much as possible. I hope to see some of them on the ‘A’ tours. Some of them, who are a bit young, might stay back and play more Under 19 cricket and would benefit from it. But some of them who are eligible for the World Cup even the next time should move on and play Ranji Trophy instead. We build bonds and we build relationships and then they go, so it is emotional, of course. One of the important things for us next is that we need to manage them and not let them disappear after the U-19 World Cup.
Dravid the coach sees this as part of a process. How important is a World Cup win for Dravid, the person?
It is nice to know you are part of a winning team with whom you have put in so much of hard work. We’re part of a team, group of other people. It feels nice, my kids are chuffed and they woke up early in the morning to watch the game. They are really happy, and that always makes me happy.