Since Rahul Dravid was appointed as the India A and U-19 coach in June 2015, the junior Indian teams have witnessed a lot of improvement, the success of which had a positive impact on the senior team as well. Youngsters have time and time again acknowledged the former India captain's role in their development.
A year before his appointment, Dravid had also mentored Indian Premier League (IPL) team Rajasthan Royals (RR). Youngsters such as Sanju Samson, Karun Nair, Deepak Hooda and Dhawal Kulkarni were a part of that group. Perhaps that might have helped Dravid as he produced fruitful results with both India A and U-19 team.
His contributions as a batsman were endless. But now that he has stepped down as Delhi Daredevils mentor (read conflict of interest) and opted to prolong his services to Indian cricket as India A and U-19 coach by two years, let's go through how these teams have fared under him so far:
His first assignment was India A's triangular series against South Africa and Australia's A teams. It didn't take much time for Dravid to adjust in his new role as the Unmukt Chand-led side immediately tasted success and defeated the Australians in the final.
Even against visiting South Africa and Bangladesh A, Dravid's guidance helped India A not only pose challenge but emerge victorious consistently.
With the India colts, Dravid's most important challenge was to calm the nerves of youngsters. Them being in awe of 'The Wall' might have resulted in open communication becoming something of an issue. He was also aware that it was necessary to provide all the players enough chances, and as such frequently rotated the squad. This eventually became his trademark style of coaching as he firmly believed that confidence is a big factor when it comes to grooming young talent and sitting on the bench for long periods could hamper it.
The results were visible. India U-19 team began the tri-nation series — that involved Afghanistan U-19 and Bangladesh U-19 teams — by defending a paltry score of 158 against the Bangladeshis. Avesh Khan, who two years later debuted in IPL for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), starred in that fixture, scalping wickets at an extraordinary economy of 0.66. Taking the momentum forward, they went onto hammer the same team in the final and clinched the tournament.
The team also flourished in the subsequent triangular series against England U-19 and Sri Lanka U-19's in away conditions. They returned to India without losing a single match and the trophy. Some of the players that excelled in that event were Washington Sundar, Khaleel Ahmed and Rishabh Pant. Both Pant and Sundar gained recognition through domestic cricket and IPL in the following years. Left arm pacer Ahmed, on the other hand, was picked up by Delhi Daredevils in 2016 and, though he didn't play a single match in IPL, his performances with India colts granted him a chance to train with Zaheer Khan.
The ICC Under-19 World Cup was fast approaching and Dravid had laid out a plan for the team. He asked BCCI to arrange practice matches with Board President's XI and urged them to include some international players. His logic was that the youngsters' preparation for the World Cup in Bangladesh should be intensive. What followed wasn't surprising. Playing against a quality team, with players such as Abhinav Mukund, Jaydev Unadkat, Ishwar Pandey and few domestic giants, India colts defeated Board President's XI by 23 runs.
The junior Indian team began the World Cup on a perfect note, notching up wins against Ireland, New Zealand, Nepal and Namibia (in the quarter-final). Dravid himself was a part of many marquee clashes and was aware of how pressure could affect his wards' performances. So when the colts were about to play the semi-final against Sri Lanka, his only message to the boys was to play their natural game, albeit confidently and with a composed mind. To motivate them, he asked the team management to make montages of his own players. While Pant saw his monster sixes, Avesh witnessed his scalping wickets. The players who might not have done anything remarkable until then were shown their fielding efforts. The result, you ask? A comprehensive victory and a final berth.
Having done all of that, Dravid, who had never won a World Cup as a player, was gracious enough to say that if India go onto win the title, it would be the players' achievement and not his.
"I believe it is a player’s team, and not really a coach’s team. I have been a player long enough to know a coach can have only a certain amount of impact on a team. It is really up to the players. It is their World Cup, their performances and theirs to win and lose. We are there to help them as coaches and support them in their journey as cricketers. I don’t really compare the two and I am not trying to win a World Cup because I haven’t won as a player," he was quoted as saying to The Indian Express.
The winning streak eventually came to an end in the summit clash, but not before we saw a gritty knock from Sarfaraz Khan and an inspiring fight from the bowlers. As wickets tumbled from the other end, Sarfaraz maintained his composure and struck a fifty to ensure India are not bundled out for an embarrassing score (West Indies had them for 87/6 at one stage and Sarfaraz guided them to 145). The defeat in the final was India's first in a Youth ODI since 2014, and understandingly the heads were dropped, with all the excitement in the build-up to the final vanishing in an instant. At that moment, Dravid inspired his wards with the words, "You are the champions for me." Those words were enough to mellow the dressing room down. India colts went onto win the Under-19 Asia Cup in December 2016.
After Anil Kumble was appointed as the head coach of India in June 2016, Dravid, along with skipper Virat Kohli and then limited-overs captain MS Dhoni, met Kumble to chalk out a road-map for the future of Indian cricket. The meeting focused on issues like domestic cricket set-up, India A tours, injury management and workload of the players. The most important point however was reinforce the bench strength of the Indian cricket team.
As a result of which, Dravid's approach with India A team was slightly different. He wanted to enure maximum players get promoted to the senior team and he did that effectively. Hardik Pandya, had struggled initially during India A's tour of Australia in August 2016, and scored a patient 79 in the second unofficial Test, which did a world of good for his confidence. He made his ODI debut two months later and also earned maiden call-up to Test squad against England. Pandya did not shy away from attributing his improvement to Dravid.
"For me, everything changed after my tour of Australia with the India A team. It is a tour that transformed me as a cricketer. I can't but thank Rahul Dravid enough for his contribution. I understood that there is a mental aspect about the game that needs to be worked upon. He (Dravid) made me mentally stronger," Hardik said to DNA.
Not only Pandya, the likes of Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Karun, Shreyas Iyer, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jayant Yadav have been a part of 'A' tours. All of these players, barring Iyer, have played for India and acknowledged Dravid's role in their enhancement.
Most recently, 17-year-old Prithvi Shaw was the beneficiary of Dravid's tenure. During 2016/17 Ranji Trophy, Mumbai were struggling to find an opener ahead of their semi-final, selector Milind Rege was confused whether Shaw could be graduated to domestic cricket. However a phone call to Dravid changed his perspective, as the India U-19 coach informed him that Shaw was indeed ready. A debut was handed to Shaw and he impressed in his second outing with the bat itself as he slammed a century (120) and guided Mumbai to the final.
It is quite visible that Dravid's contributions as India U-19 and A coach have been numerous. Choosing that job over an IPL contract has just highlighted his determination to offer more for Indian cricket.
Published Date: Jul 01, 2017 06:30 pm | Updated Date: Jul 01, 2017 07:00 pm