There’s increasing focus on the U-19 World Cup…
The U-19 World Cup is not the only thing. Since that event is held every two years, some of the kids don’t meet the age criteria. There shouldn’t be a sword hanging on a player’s neck saying, ‘I have just one or two opportunities and if I don’t perform, it over for me’. The players put in years of hard work so they can’t be judged on the basis of one or two innings.
The challenge is more at the first-class level. The happiest thing for us is when some of these players represent the country. From the last group, it was Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill. From the 2016 batch, Rishabh (Pant), Khaleel (Ahmed), Washington (Sundar) have all played for India, while Ishan (Kishan) and Avesh (Khan) are part of India ‘A’. Many of these players are also integral parts of their state teams.
How different is it to coach U-19 kids compared to a Ranji side?
In a Ranji side, once you have the squad you know the 15-20 guys you have to work with. You get more time. With U-19 or India ‘A’, time is an issue. It’s about how many changes you want to introduce in a two or three-week period. It makes you think out of the box. Every two years, there will be a different batch.
Isn’t the IPL more of an attraction for young cricketers?
The focus is on shorter formats globally. IPL is a big thing and with the money also comes exposure. That’s a challenge and an opportunity for coaches. I enjoy interacting with these kids, trying to understand where they are coming from. As a coach, I need to understand a player’s financial, educational and family background. Then I know how to pass on a message, how to work with him. The most important thing is the trust factor. I like spending time with these kids over dinner or breakfast and that helps me to coach them well. It’s not one solution for all.
Fitness awareness among the younger generation has increased…
Fitness is an integral part of Indian cricket culture now. The youngsters see how the likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja all work hard on their fitness drills. The Indian team’s fitness culture has rubbed down on the junior and domestic level as well. Youngsters understand that if you have fitness, it enhances your skills. Most youngsters who come to us these days are physically very strong.
What changes would you like to see in terms of coordination and communication between NCA and state associations?
I would like to see better coordination so that the cricketers remain fit and can play when it matters most. Once players are back with their state teams, they are controlled by their state coaches. The challenge is to have as much control as we can. Whether this is right or wrong, we will have to look into that. With better control, we can monitor a player’s workload as we don’t want a talent to miss out due to injury. You don’t want a kid to be over-bowled and miss out on a crucial year.
Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi are prime examples…
Absolutely. From our (NCA) side, we remain in touch. Our trainer Anand Datey shares schedules, monitors the progress of each player. We have an app to monitor and collect as much data as possible. Often, Datey will raise the red flag if a player has been over-bowled at the state level.
There are so many young pacers bowling above 140 kmph…
This is due to enhanced fitness and proper biomechanics. You don’t see physios and trainers on the ground but a lot of work goes on behind the scenes, in the off-season too. Fitness is the prime reason, and also the biomechanics work we do to make sure technique is not an issue. I think this combination is working well. You need to monitor these kids closely for a couple of years. Only once they are 23-24, they become aware of what they need to do. They are also inspired by what they see at the top. Ishant, Bumrah, Shami, Umesh, Bhuvi…all of them bowl at 140-plus.
What are the things you look at before fast-tracking a player into the national side?
That’s where the India ‘A’ structure comes in. We do a lot of away tours so they are aware of the conditions. Of course, players by then know home conditions in and out. The challenge is when a person graduates to playing for the country, he should already have experience of playing in Australia, South Africa, England, New Zealand etc. This whole U-19 and ‘A’ structure is the brainchild of Rahul Dravid. When I was playing, I had only one India ‘A’ tour in my whole career. Now, you have so many. Credit should go to BCCI, it’s not cheap. It’s a challenge to organize these tours…sometimes other boards don’t have enough money so BCCI bears the costs. Such gestures often go unrecognized.
The frontline Indian pace attack is now among the best in the world. But what about the bench strength?
I am happy with the bench strength. There were a lot of guys from India ‘A’ who went on to play for the country like Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur. It’s going in the right direction. We have quality fast bowlers and spinners coming up.
How do you keep tabs on upcoming fast-bowling talent?
I watch a lot of first-class cricket live. I also watch Ranji Trophy matches on TV. I travel to watch a particular bowler if he catches my fancy. Seeing him in action gives me a better idea of what he can do in a match scenario. Largely there is communication between NCA and state associations about exciting talents.
What impact has Rahul Dravid made?
He restructured the U-19 and India ‘A’ systems. He felt had he got these facilities, or proper training and guidance from physios, he could have extended his career by a couple of years. This is something the earlier generations of cricketers all feel. They had skills but not much guidance. Rahul has changed the scenario.