Clayton Murzello: Youth icon of a different kind
India U-19 World Cup-winning coach Rahul Dravid's voice may not be loud, but his views will reverberate with the team for a lifetime
India under-19 captain Prithvi Shaw with his coach Rahul Dravid after winning the World Cup final against Australia at Bay Oval in New Zealand last Saturday. Pic/ICC
Not often in history has Indian cricket been a shining example to the rest of the world. The Rahul Dravid-mentored India U-19 team has produced this rarity with a World Cup-winning performance whose aftermath unearthed stories of struggle, sacrifice and inspiration.
The often-bashed Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) too can enjoy a thick slice of credit for throwing open a large canvas in the form of training facilities, regular matches and allowing the team to reach New Zealand early enough for perfect acclimatisation.
Sure, the victory in the final against Australia at Bay Oval last Saturday provided a crowning moment for India's young cricketers, but to enter the final without losing a match was an enviable achievement in itself. India were deserving champions.
The tournament was a bit like the senior Indian team's win in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket. Way back then, India under Sunil Gavaskar's leadership won four matches on the trot (against Pakistan, England, Australia and New Zealand) to get to the final against Pakistan, whom they beat at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Coincidentally, the 1985 victory margin of eight wickets was the same margin as Saturday's show in New Zealand.
The flair which the Indian cricketers displayed during their six matches at the U-19 World Cup was pleasing to the eye and if there was a passage of timid and insipid play on Saturday, it came from the Australians while trying to set a target. It was as if they didn't turn up at Mount Maunganui. Where was all that aggression and positive play which they often pride themselves on, one wonders.
Indian cricket lovers will hope that our young heroes don't get too ahead of themselves by believing that they have conquered the Himalayas. Dravid's presence in the Indian cricket set-up somewhat helps dash those fears.
The Dravid factor in the U-19 World Cup victory also reopened memory banks and caused us not only to remember those great batting feats from Adelaide to Rawalpindi, but also the manner in which he carried himself.
I wonder how many of the kids he mentored at the World Cup know that, at one point of time, the selectors thought their coach was not suited for one-day cricket and was dropped. Yet, he ended his career with nearly 11,000 ODI runs. He also captained his country at a World Cup, albeit a highly forgettable one in 2007.
And did the kids know about how he was expected to keep wickets as well as score runs overseas for India in one-day cricket from 2002 and 2004? This he did without a fuss to facilitate an ideal combination which, under Sourav Ganguly, won the NatWest Series in England and reached the final of the Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka followed by the World Cup in Southern Africa.
The idea which was mooted in the 2002 home ODI series against Zimbabwe, was ridiculed by the pundits. At Lord's, before the NatWest Series kicked off, I asked Dravid about his challenging role and he seemed to have a positive approach to the wicketkeeping workload. "Since I've not done it for a long time, it's not that easy. But I am getting used to it, I'm getting better. Actually, it's quite good because it keeps you involved in the game." He ended the series with three vital half centuries and he kept efficiently.
In Adelaide 2003, we saw the best of Dravid. He scored 233 and a priceless, unbeaten 72 which prevented the Australians from bowling India out below 230. A four-wicket win helped India go one-up for the first time on Australian soil and Dravid played the leading hand in it with the bat.
Skipper Ganguly told Kolkata-based The Telegraph newspaper that his vice-captain batted like God in Adelaide, to which Dravid replied, "Look, Sourav must be joking. How can anybody bat like God?" Like then, Dravid does not give in to hyperbole. In fact, he has grown to be an evangelist of balance and India's U-19 team are very fortunate to have him.
While coach Dravid did not provide too much fodder for the headline makers, he has been pretty straight with his post-World Cup utterances. Firstly, he said that his triumphant players should not be defined by the World Cup win because they should achieve other highs too. He also indicated that the boys must strive to win titles for their states in domestic cricket. And, at the felicitation function for his team on Monday, he all but said that there should have been more players from the U-19 team that won the 2012 World Cup against Australia graduating to the India senior ranks.
India should listen to Dravid. His voice may not be loud, but his views will reverberate with this young team for a lifetime. For some of them, he will be the one and only Test cricketer coach in their careers a coach whose teachings they will tell their grandchildren about some day.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org