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Indian cricket is in a very good space: Rahul Dravid

The Indian legend feels coaching is not just about developing cricketers, but about empowering them to have meaningful careers

Patience was the hallmark of Rahul Dravid’s batting. It was the foundation on which he would build his innings. After taking over as coach of India’s A and U-19 teams, little has changed. ‘The Wall’ still does not believe in instant solutionsthat are half-baked but waits to deliver a near-finished product.

It is due to the seamless transition from India A that led Karun Nair to convert his maiden Test ton into a mammoth tripleafter Jayant Yadav had proved his mettle with his first Test century in only his third Test. India now boast of a strong bench strength capable of answering the team’s need in any situation.

A day after the India U-19 successfully defended their Youth Asia Cup crown after defeating hosts Sri Lanka in a thrilling final in Colombo, Dravid in an interview with BCCI.TV spoke at length about grooming India’s future stars and meeting the needs of the national team.

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It was a really good and a valuable tournament. A lot of young boys in the team were playing with the white kookaburra ball for the first time. Being pushed and challenged in the final was really good. From the team's perspective, it was obviously nice to win as it does a lot for the confidence of the players. More importantly, there is a lot that we have learnt from this tournament about the players and about the team as well. It has been a valuable experience.

Does Rahul Dravid, the coach, behave differently from Rahul Dravid, the cricketer during a close finish or a thriller?

Sometimes it can be a little bit more nerve-wracking as a coach than it as a player because as a player you feel you have an opportunity to change things, especially if you are batting or still involved in the game. As a coach, you don't have the chance to change things or the game. So, you do get nervous because of the expectations and more importantly, you want the boys to do well. You are keen because some of them have performed well and you have that level of expectations and anxiety for them. I think it is a lot easier being a coach than a player as the player has to go out and perform and execute his skills under pressure, which is never really easy.

Since most of the boys are 18 and under, are we looking at the core of the team for the U-19 World Cup?

A lot of these boys are young and the age group for the whole tournament has been designed keeping the U-19 World Cup in 2018 in mind, so that they are available for that World Cup and it is exciting. Yes, in a lot of ways we are looking at the boys who might be a part of that World Cup team. But there are a lot of boys who are not in this team but have every opportunity if they perform in domestic cricket at the U-19 level to stake a claim.

With this tournament and with some other matches that we will have over the course of the year, we will start building a team. We will be giving them exposure before they play the next U-19 World Cup. There is an opportunity for every cricketer playing U-19 cricket in India to come out and perform and push and challenge these boys. The selectors have identified these boys as potentially the first group but we will be giving more opportunities to the group that has just missed out. Hopefully, we will give nearly 20-25 boys an opportunity to get themselvesselected for the India U-19 team through sheer performances

The senior Indian team is reaping benefits of a strong bench strength. With you looking at the transition, tell us about the process.

I think Indian cricket is pretty lucky at the moment. We are seeing a lot of talent, not just in the main team and but also in the boys coming through. There is a lot of talent in the India A team and also the U-19 team. Indian cricket is in a pretty good space. We need to keep developing and growing. We need to work on some of the gains that we had over the last few years and develop strong squads and strong bench squads.

The England series was a good reflection of that. You really want players who can come into the team and perform straightaway and take to international cricket easily. If you have players who can adjust from domestic cricket to international cricket straightaway, it makes your national team stronger. From that point of view, the India A tours are a great bridge as the difference can be big and the A tours can bridge that gap. The couple of A tours that I have been involved in, we saw really good opposition. We were in Australia and played against many who are now a part of the Australian setup and are even in the national side and same goes for South Africa. I think the A tour is a really good judge also for the player to test himself and it gives selectors an opportunity to see how you have performed at a level that is higher than in domestic cricket. Having A tours is a great concept in building a bench strength and it can only benefit the Indian team in the long run.

Soon after scoring his triple century, Karun Nair thanked you. You have seen him grow.

Karun Nair had a fantastic Test match and is an incredible scorer. To score your first hundred and also go on to score a triple hundred speaks volumes for his ability and his hunger and desire. I am really happy for him and happy for Indian cricket to see boys coming through. He can go and build on from here. He has the ability and has got talent along with guys like KL Rahul, Jayant Yadav and Hardik Pandya, who got an opportunity in the ODIs. It is unfortunate that he got injured. It is nice to see the boys coming from the India A setup.

It is also a tribute to the environment being created in the national team that they are feeling comfortable and performing straightway. Credit must be given to Virat (Kohli) and Anil (Kumble) for the kind of setup they have. We are seeing the benefits and some very good results, so it is nice to be a part of the process in some ways.

Both India Head Coach Anil Kumble and you have said that India A and U-19 tours are not just about results. What is the message you give out to the boys and the overall objective you look to achieve from these tours?

Yes, we want to win and get good results, but in my opinion, the India A and U-19 tours are not so much about results. It is more about giving opportunities, exposure and developing young players and young people. Coaching is not about just developing cricketers but it should be an effort to try and develop them as people, so that they can go on and have meaningful careers and lives. At the U-19 level, it is about exposure.

It is dangerous and difficult to put all your eggs in one basket and say that these are our core group of 15 players. I feel we should identify a broader group of 30 players and give them many matches against each other, against other oppositions. At this age, it is very hard to tell which one is actually going to make it. I think you got to give all of them an opportunity to make it and grow as cricketers. Even if all of them do not go on to represent India, they will become better first-class cricketers, which will eventually raise the standard of domestic cricket and it leads to better international cricketers. There is a spinoff from giving more opportunities to a lot more players to giving more opportunities to young players and not play your same players over and over again.

If you are focussed on just winning, you end up playing just your best U-19 player all the time rather than giving more opportunities. Someone who might not be good at the U-19 level might go on to represent India and become your future star. We see A tours and U-19 tours as feeding grounds to national teams. We are in touch with the national team to find out what are the skill sets they are looking at in the near future and try and give that kind of opportunity. If they're looking for an all-rounder, then we will play as many all-rounders at the junior level to see who can take the next step. It is about balance between a result and a lot more things.

BCCI Staff

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303* & the day that was

Pride-anxiety-relief - the run of emotions that went into the making of a Karun Nair triple ton

It is 7:45AM on the clock and the team bus is about to leave in half an hour. Karun Nair’s father, Kaladharan is standing at the reception to have a word with his son before he hops on to the bus. He wishes him luck and Karun is off to join his teammates. Karun has his bat quietly seated next to him inside the bus. He is listening to some music on his phone and staring outside the window.

71 is his overnight score. 29 more needed to bring up that magical three-figure mark. He middles a few during the morning practice drills. One straight; the other through the covers and the next one, just a warm flick. Ten to fifteen more throw downs later, Karun signals he is done and marches into the dressing room to change into his whites. 9:30AM on a Monday morning, Chepauk welcomes local lad M Vijay and Nair with a huge roar. Expect the bulk of the cheering to be for Vijay, but few were to realise that Chepauk would get vociferous for Nair at the end of Day 4.

Nair is in the middle - attacking, sometimes subtle, most times confident. His father is noticing each run, his wife Prema is next to him - nervous, anxious and breaking into a silent prayer every now and then. Then there is the moment. A slice behind point for a boundary, the Nair family is on its feet. The hospitality box is abuzz with claps and handshakes. Nair’s parents give each other a hug as they watch their son taking off his helmet and point the bat towards them.

There is relief and joy - both in abundance. Karun’s mother would never watch her son bat on TV. Today she had watched him scripting history. “Watching my son bat and get a Test hundred is an ambition I always had. It has happened right in front of us now,” Kaladharan says smiling from ear to ear. “We both were nervous during his entire innings but were relieved when he got to a hundred. We are just proud,” he adds.

In the hours to follow, Karun marches on from one milestone to another. 100-150, 150-200, 200-250 and 250-300 all in a breeze just like the one blowing across the ground. It gets darker at Chepauk with each passing minute. Nair reaches his triple ton with a boundary through point. The moment that the whole of Chepauk is waiting for with bated breath is finally there to be applauded. Karun soaks into the moment and walks back to his welcoming teammates with pats on his back.

“It’s the best day in my life and most important point in my career as of now. I want to thank my parents for their support who have come here to watch all these days. They must be proud of me,” he exclaims. He now joins the elite 300 club along with Virender Sehwag who smashed a triple in this very ground against South Africa in 2008.

“I was just 17 at that time and I remember watching it on TV. It was just fascinating to watch him smash the ball all over the park. It is an honour to join him in the club and I look forward to having conversations with him in the future,” he exclaims reminiscing the famous Sehwag triple ton.

Ask him to rewind his innings and the run of emotions a day before he smashed his way into record book and Karun has a confession to make. “I don’t think I slept well. I was trying my best to get some good sleep and come out fresh today. I pushed myself today and my motivation levels were really high. Just like getting off the mark during an innings, it is difficult to get your first hundred. I am just happy to join the 300 club.”

But what was fascinating about his innings was the way he accelerated after reaching 250. It took him hardly any time to reach the iconic 300-run mark which was backed up with a bit of English generosity as well. “I started playing more freely after 250. Once I got to 250, the team management had certain plans and that let me play all the shots that I wanted. I got boundaries at will. In a couple of overs, I reached 280-285 and that is when I thought 300 was definitely possible.”

Nair went on to thank the India ‘A’ tour and Rahul Dravid for his valuable support throughout. His present coach Anil Kumble gives him an assuring pat the moment he walks into the dressing room. The cameras flash long and hard, congratulatory messages follow and chants of ‘Nair Nair’ donn the evening at Chennai.

The chants only continue as he walks back to the team bus for a drive to the hotel. His parents are waiting with open arms. Amidst the fanfare, Karun walks into the hotel lobby and is embraced with hugs from his loved ones. Ashwin hugs him from behind. Karun is at the thick of it. Ask Kaladharan about the words of advice he gave this morning to his son at that very same place and he says, “What advice do I give him on playing cricket. He knows better. I can only advice him on his behaviour. This is just the beginning for Karun. He should only work hard and go to higher levels. As of now, we will cherish this moment and celebrate his triple ton.”

Anand Subramaniam
Anand Subramaniam

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