There is a certain intransigence in Rahul Dravid, even after his 45th birthday, and two decades in the mad house that is Indian cricket. And while that word usually has negative undertones, it sits sinless on Dravid, for it his internal clarity that has refused to waver, much to the benefit of Indian cricket.
Take for instance his proactively seeking clarification about potential conflict of interest in being coach of the Indian teams and Delhi Daredevils. It was a move that could have cost him serious money, and might have lost him a friend or two: Now a number of other coaches and support staff must choose between national duty and IPL contracts. Then there is his position against age-fudging, which he has likened to match fixing, which seems to have prompted the rule disallowing players to play more than one Under-19 World Cup.
“Wins are important, and we play every game to win it, we enter every tournament to win it”, said Dravid, before adding, “We also keep the bigger picture in mind.”
Similarly, Dravid is looking at more than results in the Under-19 World Cup 2018. “From the player’s perspective, they want to win every game. But if you see the lead up to it, what’s been satisfying for me is that we’ve given 30-35 people an opportunity to represent India Under-19 at some level or in some form over the last 14 months before finalizing this 15. Also by ensuring we didn’t pick people who had played last time, we ensuring a fresh group keeps coming through.”
In turn, the younger lot seems to be making sure that they show their coach their appreciation. A video of Dravid getting lathered with cake by the players on his birthday has been posted by the BCCI. “It's been good fun. I've kind of really enjoyed working with this group. It's been a good experience over the last couple of years,” Dravid said.
While only two players from the last Under-19 World Cup team – Rishabh Pant and Washington Sundar — have been picked for India, Dravid has maintained that his other team, India A, is the next progression. From there, they can make a case for senior level selection. “The Under-19s is slightly different to the A team,” he said. “The A team, I always feel, is a little bit more about the performances, with guys almost pushing for spots into the Indian team. So you're really focused on them trying to get performances to start getting recognition from the selectors to get into the Indian side as we've seen some of the A team boys do.
“Here (with Under-19s) it's a little bit more of a developmental role. You can have a little bit more of an impact even on technique and mindset. (We’re) looking at them from a slightly long-term perspective. Here, we know that the time frame is a little bit longer. So we're not looking at them to get into the Indian team tomorrow — if they do, great — but we're not really expecting that. We know they have three-four more years down the line, it's a slightly different thing. But both of them are really enjoyable and fun.”
Coaching India isn’t a one-man show though. India have a large support staff, with a video analyst, trainer, physio and masseur, besides the manager and three coaches. Assisting Dravid for the past few months have been Paras Mhambrey (bowling coach) and Abhay Sharma (fielding coach). But Dravid said the distinctions between roles aren’t as clear cut as that.
“We've worked together really well for the last couple of years, so we understand each other,” he said. “I kind of don't believe so much in just demarcating. You know, even though Paras may be the bowling coach and Abhay is the fielding coach, I believe both of them have enough knowledge and experience as they've coached Ranji Trophy teams, they've been around teams a lot and they've played a lot of cricket themselves. It’s not like Abhay won't have a suggestion on bowling or on batting, or Paras might not have a point of view.
“What we've tried to do and encourage is a situation where we say we're three coaches, let's just pool our heads together and see how we can work in all the departments. Abhay sort of manages the fielding a little bit more and Paras has a little more responsibility with the bowling. But we work in sync and we're not restricting them from actually sharing their knowledge.”
That knowledge has helped India make a flying start in the tournament. India scored 328 against the Australians, who are among the favourites in the tournament. They then restricted to 228. This despite playing in conditions that Australian captain Jason Sangh described as “pretty close to home.”
“For them these conditions are a bit more familiar than for us, and that is one of the exciting things, playing this tournament away from home,” said Dravid. “It’s really a good learning from our perspective, just exposing them (players) to conditions is very important at this Under-19 level. It goes back to that earlier point about these results versus the experiences, and I think it’s the experiences that really matter more than sometimes the results.”
It’s still early days in the tournament, but with this win India have established themselves as the team to beat. And in a tournament with the likes of Ryan Harris and Jonathan Trott in the backrooms, Dravid and Co have made their mark as the coaching team to watch.
The author is a former international cricketer and now a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She hosts the YouTube channel Cricket With Snehal, and tweets @SnehalPradhan .