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MUMBAI: He had prepared his team as only he could have – with his famous attention to detail. Before the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand, Rahul Dravid held a camp in Bangalore where he ensured the wickets were prepared to closely resemble those they would encounter in New Zealand.
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Dravid then ensured that his team left a good fortnight in advance to get as familiar to the conditions as possible. The whole exercise cost the Board a cool Rs 4-crore 67-lakhs, but the India Under-19 coach knew the worth of his efforts was much more.
Once in New Zealand then, his boys played flawless cricket from Ball One to sail into the semifinals of the World Cup. Ahead of the big game against Pakistan, however, Dravid was stressed more about one thing more than the opposition.
On January 27 and 28, in India, arrived the ‘mega auction’ of the IPL. The India great could not blame his wards if they were all following the auctions in Bangalore via live streaming even though it was past midnight in Christchurch. For any talented teenager, learning that you could soon be earning a paycheck of a few crores can be overwhelming — and distracting — when you are in the middle of the most important tournament of your nascent career. It was that spectre which troubled the seasoned Dravid. “Rahul sir saw me checking the auction news on phone and told me just one thing, ‘This auction will be held next year too, but a U-19 World Cup final will come in your life just once,'” pacer Shivam Mavi said.
“It’s human nature, after all,” quipped Dravid, seated alongside captain Prithvi Shaw after returning home with the Under-19 World Cup. “That week during the IPL auction was a bit stressful but credit to the boys, once that was done they came back to practice and switched on. Only those three days I was a bit worried,” recalled Dravid, on the boys’ curiosity-level about the IPL auctions.
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Of course, with Dravid around, discipline needn’t be enforced. It seamlessly becomes a part of the system. “We had some loose curfews. Sometimes the boys followed it,” laughed the coach, “That’s fine, they are teenagers. I have been a teenager too. “What impressed me was the level of maturity they showed in the age of social media, most of which I am not even aware of,” he added.
Dravid seemed particularly aware on the importance of keeping this triumph in perspective, considering to what happened with Unmukt Chand & Co after they clinched the Under-19 World Cup in Australia in 2012. Only one boy from that squad, pacer Sandeep Sharma went on to play for India.
“The challenge and the hard work really start from here. We had couple of conversation on this. When we were there, they showed a re-run of the 2012 finals and I later started checking upon a few things. It is interesting; the result of the final is India beat Australia but six years down the line only one of those boys has played for India while five-six of them went on to play for Australia. Six years down the line, the debatable point is who won that final,” he summed up beautifully.
“Talent and ability is there, it’s about managing themselves, how to deal with pressure and the expectations that will come as U-19 champions. The hard work begins for them begins for us too. It’s not easy to get into the Indian side. At least if they become good first class cricketers, from then on it becomes a stepping stone to play for India,” he said.
Dravid felt it was time that that these boys didn’t play U-19 cricket anymore, and are thrown in the deep end of first-class cricket straightaway, though he left it to the BCCI to decide on take a final call. “My view is quite well known. I feel that once the boys are good enough they should go on to play men’s cricket, especially those who had played first-class cricket. We have seen from last year’s bunch, five boys from that World Cup qualified to play this time. But we made a conscious decision not to pick them up for this World Cup as I felt it will be better for them to play under-23 cricket and senior men’s cricket. I am not sure if it’s the best (option) for the boys or Indian cricket if some of them (still) play in the next U-19 World Cup,” he pointed out.
Dravid was glad that his team got an early taste of what an India-Pakistan game was all about. “I did not treat the Pakistan match as different, we did not focus on the opposition, the preparation and the planning did not change. The process and planning was the same. The boys knew that many people watch it. We played two Asia Cups, but we did not play Pakistan. I am happy that they got to know what an India-Pakistan game is about, at the Under 19 level. The way our boys handled that game, the quality of cricket that we played, the intensity that we showed was commendable and we did not give them a chance to come back,” he said.
Dravid had later walked up to the Pakistan camp to meet ‘that impressive fast bowler’ (Shaheen Afridi) after his team beat the arch-rivals by 203 runs. “They told me that they were in awe of the brand of cricket we were playing,” revealed the proud coach. Yet, Dravid was candidly admitted that his side didn’t play it’s ‘A’ game in the final, but still got through. “We did not play our No. 1 one game in the final — that we played in the quarterfinal (v Bangladesh) and semifinal (versus Pakistan). Just the fact that they played the finals was an experience,” said the former India captain after the victorious team’s arrival here from New Zealand.
SKIPPER SHAW CREDITS FATHER FOR SUCCESS
Captain Prithvi Shaw, meanwhile, praised his father Pankaj for helping him out during what had been initially a “difficult journey.”
“It was a difficult journey for me starting where I used to live in Virar. All credit to my dad he was the only who took me (everywhere). He used to take me to matches practices and it was far away from my home in Virar. It used to take two hours and the journey from the train and it was difficult for in those days,” said Shaw, who scored a hundred in Ranji and Duleep Trophy debuts.