In many ways, India’s wondrous performance at the under-19 World Cup in Australia was a victory for the National Cricket Academy too.
No, it did not produce the players who brought home the silverware, but it made them finished products for that level.
The Bangalore-based institution has witnessed many ups and downs since it started in the new millennium and the man who played a big role in its inception — Raj Singh Dungarpur — will be smiling in Elysian Fields.
India captain Unmukt Chand had the NCA high on his thank you list during his speech on Sunday. He prioritised well.
The journey to the third World Cup triumph started not long after India lost to Pakistan in the under-19 World Cup quarter-finals in Lincoln, New Zealand two years ago. “We analysed what went wrong and how we could do better than what was executed in New Zealand and learnt from those mistakes,” said a coach at the academy.
When the 30 India probables assembled for the first time at the academy, Chand’s batting ability stood out. At the end of the session, NCA director Sandeep Patil said to him: “I will be disappointed if you don’t play for India.”
The World Cup was only one of the important titles up for grabs. There was the Asia Cup whose honours India shared with Pakistan and the quadrangular event in Australia where Chand’s lads came from behind to shock the hosts.
Patil took over from Dav Whatmore, who quit the NCA to take up a coaching position at Kolkata Knight Riders. He now coaches Pakistan. “Dav set things in place here and Sandybhai (Patil) ensured a good transition to an all-Indian set-up here. He makes everyone feel part of a family,” said a hands-on man at the NCA.
According to a fitness expert in the know, there is no shortage of Indian physios and trainers although a lot of them serve in America and United Kingdom: “They don’t want to return because they were treated badly here.”
The six camps held for the under-19s proved extremely fruitful and the boys won’t forget the boot camps where their fear factor was tested in the wildlife of southern India. And apart from activities of adventure, there were team-building tasks that involved cooking and fetching vegetables. Patil probably made it more worthwhile through his love for wildlife.
When it came to the World Cup, self belief was the buzz word. “We are going to believe that we can win it come-what-may and that helped when it came to that opening game loss to the West Indies,” said an NCA source. Pep talks from senior stars helped too, especially the one given by Sachin Tendulkar, who spoke to the boys on the eve of their departure at the Bandra Kurla Complex. Patil’s World Cup experience came in handy before the team left for Australia. Apart from being a member of the 1983 World Cup-winning team, he was in the inner ring of India’s 1996 World Cup outfit before he coached Kenya to a remarkable semi-final finish in 2003.
“It was a collective effort,” stressed an academy coach. “Each and every one of us contributed to this achievement and that includes the groundsmen who, on Patil’s instructions prepared different types of tracks. From Australian-type wickets to tracks you would find in Visakhapatnam or Kuala Lumpur. We have variety in those 19 strips.”
And while India’s junior cricket bathes in World Cup glory, plans to get the under-16 team ready for the bigger stage in two years’ time are already afloat.