Rahul Dravid has earned his rest. After one and a half years of planning, he helped India to their record fourth Under-19 World Cup title, which was also the first world title of his playing and coaching career.
Now he has a few months to put his feet up, with no assignments with India A or India Under-19 teams in the immediate future. Hours after the World Cup win, Dravid shared his thoughts on the U-19 team’s journey, the emotions, and the future of the players.
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 it’s very heartening from the perspective that we’ve won, 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 or 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 hard work. 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. It’s very heartening, the kind of performances (we saw) 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 practice paid off.
How have you motivated the players who were on the fringes, or were injured?
I think huge credit (should go) to our physio and fitness trainer. We had a few injuries in the team, 50-50, tricky ones. They worked hard on the guys, put in a lot of effort to ensure they were right, just for the fact that for the boys this was everything the boys had worked for. Easiest thing for us would have been to send some of them home. We chose to back them, support them. We took those risks, credit to Anand (strength and conditioning coach), Yogesh (physio), 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 toast to the NCA. All of these boys, over the course of a year, were managed very carefully at NCA. They had a couple of injuries. The trainers, physios worked hard with them. 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 and the BCCI, organising tournaments. The selectors, did a terrific job, they watched a lot of games, three of them, Venky (Venkatesh Prasad), Gyanu (Gyanendra Pandey) and Rakesh (Parikh), to come up with names and talent. Then it’s exciting for us to work with that talent.
The players will now move into higher level cricket. What’s your advice to them here on?
Those are conversations we’ve already been having. 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 which they will cherish. But the tough part starts now.
You got here pretty early, and played practice games. How important was that preparation ahead of the World Cup?
To be fair, 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. None of these boys had played outside the sub-continent before, though some of them had been to England. These were very different conditions and we gained a lot from that week. We were able to rotate the squad.
There was a lot of talk that the middle order has not got enough time in the middle. It was true, there was no denying that. It was a long time ago, but in Napier, Riyan (Parag) had got a lot of runs, Harvik (Desai) was batting well. Anukul (Roy) had got a fifty, so I wasn’t that worried. You are bit anxious about the fact that they haven't really batted in a game situation. But all of them had enough practice and enough hits leading up to this. We felt really confident.
This bunch of boys won’t be together after this. Is it emotional at all for you, having been with them for almost two years?
It is the end of the road in some ways, so yes, it is a bit emotional. In the last edition with those boys, the last bunch I was only there for two or three months. They do stay in touch, but of course, it is not the same thing; which is why I tried to bring some of them (the previous batch) in to play against these boys before they came here. For their own sake, we try and get them to connect and get together as much as possible.
I hope to see some of the players on ‘A’ tours. Some of them might stay back and play more Under-19 cricket, the ones who are a bit young 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 one of the important things is that we manage them and not let them disappear once again.
We have heard a lot about Rahul Dravid the coach. For Rahul Dravid the person, how important was this?
It is nice to know you are part of a team with whom you have put in a lot of hard work. My kids are chuffed and they woke up early in the morning to watch the game. They are really happy. It always makes me happy.