Rahul Dravid: I don't believe coaching is about giving instructions all the time
India's U-19 coach Rahul Dravid opens up about the team's impressive performance at the U-19 World Cup, challenges of making the transition to the senior level, and a lot more
You had said that winning the tournament wasn't the objective but producing quality players for India was. How convinced are you that these players will go on to become those players?
There definitely is talent in the group — without mentioning any single name — to go a long way. The real challenge starts now as they have to go and play first-class cricket. They are going to face quite a few ups and downs. There is talent and hopefully they've had a great experience with opportunities to learn and grow as cricketers. From now on, the challenges are going to get more difficult and exciting as well.
Speaking of the challenges, it isn't easy to make a transition to the senior level. What would be your advice to them on that?
The advice you have to give them is that they have to be patient. They have to keep working on their skills as that will allow them to be successful and competitive. At this stage of one's career, a year doesn't make a huge difference, i.e. you could lose a year or two but as long as you keep working on your skills and keep getting better, when you do get the opportunity at the first-class level, you are able to cash in and make the best of it.
Ishan Kishan said you had one-on-one sessions with the boys after the final. What was the common theme in those discussions?
It's difficult to go into each and every discussion because each one of them is at a different stage in their respective careers. The idea behind those sessions was to briefly give them my assessment and what they need to do in the future to get better. That would be the common theme.
Going back to your young days. Gundappa Viswanath was the manager of the Karnataka team and you had the opportunity to interact with him on long train journeys. How much did that help you at that age?
It makes a big difference when you have people around who've played international cricket or been in the first-class system for a long time. If you can pick their brains and learn from them — if they are willing to share their experiences, it goes a long way in helping you navigate your first steps in first-class cricket.
On that note, you also said seniors shared anecdotes back then. How much does that help a youngster?
One of the good ways to learn is to listen to other players and their experiences — through stories. Over the years, we've learnt so much through stories and conversations. Watching them play and go about their business is equally important and a really great way to learn things.
These under-19 boys are quite young and would have learnt a lot from you, but as a coach what did you learn from them?
A. Even for me, it has been a great learning experience as its early days for me in my coaching career. You are always learning and picking up things. You realise that you have different conversations with different players and people. It's not that one piece of advice will work for everyone. You learn about how people react to situations. Somethings work, somethings don't. It's just the way it is. So, as a coach, you learn all the time.
Sarfaraz Khan's father said that you had a great impact on his son as he batted with responsibility. Did you try to make a flamboyant player like him bat more responsibly?
No. We don't discourage any player from playing their shots or playing what they see naturally. One of the things we challenged them was to play the situation, which is most important in a team game. For example, you find yourself on different wickets. It's natural that you'd want to bat differently when it is 10 for two on a seaming wicket when compared to 120 for two on a flat wicket. It's important to recognise what's needed according to the situation. I think Sarfaraz was quite good through the tournament in the sense that he came in quite early at various stages and batted very well. Sometimes they weren't the easiest batting conditions and he was able to consistently put in scores. He was hard on himself. When we had our conversations, he agreed that he could have converted two or three of those innings into hundreds to have a bigger impact on the game.
There was also Armaan Jaffer in the team. Taking Sarfaraz and Armaan together, did their street-smartness stand out?
I hate talking about individual players and I have not been doing that. There is a bit of an obsession to talk about individual players and at this level, it's one of the things I don't want to talk about. There is a lot of talent. Just like everyone else, Armaan and Sarfaraz are extremely talented boys. They've got as much a chance as anyone in the 15 to go on to represent the country. Like everyone in the team, they conducted themselves really well both on and off the field.
At this stage, players are developing their own skills. Over the last few months, different boys led the team. How do you mentor leaders at this stage?
One of the things is to give them responsibilities. It is important to let them make a lot of their choices. I don't believe coaching is about standing there and giving instructions all the time. The boys are old enough to make their decisions and to know the consequences. You are there just to help and guide them. In the end, when they are in the middle, they have to make decisions on their own. Even off the field, you have to trust them to make decisions on their own. Only when they make mistakes, will they actually learn and grow from them. When they falter, you can suggest better alternatives or what they could have done.
There is a lot of energy in the young group, so how do you temper it for example taking a break from nets, etc? And how do you keep your expectations from them practical?
A lot of the expectations aren't around results or scores, but about preparation and being professional on and off the field. It is also about doing well as far as things that are in your control. Hopefully, the results would look after themselves. The boys are very enthusiastic to learn and practice. We don't want to temper that enthusiasm. We had many long net sessions. In a tournament like this you want to balance out the time and the rest. You don't want to drain or tire them out before a game. It's hard to set a formula. Along with the other coaches and the physio, you get a feel of it and you give them off days and breaks.
What can a young player learn from failure? For some of them, the defeat in the final may have been hard to accept?
They played their best. They did their best in the final, especially when we went out to defend a really low score. We spoke a lot over the last three months about being a team that never gives up and fights its way through tough situations. We didn't bat particularly well in the first 20 overs. Credit to the West Indies, they bowled well. That can happen. Failure is part and parcel of growing up as a cricketer. It's hard for a lot of them as it is a dream and they've been thinking about this for quite a few years. They know how big it is. You hope all of them go on to play for India, but that it unrealistic. You know that some of them would possibly never wear an India jersey after this. If you learn from a bad experience, then it is not really a failure. Everything was an experience, the games we won and the final. My message to them was what to learn from it and how to become better cricketers. This is just the start of the journey for a lot of them.
The IPL does occupy a big portion of the players' minds so how do you bring in perspective while dealing with these youngsters?
They all watch the IPL and there is no doubt that they would want to share the dressing room with some of the greats in the Indian team and their heroes — which otherwise they would have to play international cricket to get. They all want to do that. But you get a sense that a lot of them want to break into the Ranji Trophy teams and establish themselves there as well. It's becoming more and more obvious that the route to being selected in the Indian team is through the Ranji Trophy. Even in the IPL, a lot of people are looking at performances in domestic matches. They want to make it into their Ranji Trophy sides. They recognise the challenges as they have to compete with more established players in the domestic teams. Those who come from stronger Ranji Trophy teams, it is an even bigger challenge.