Strik­ing the right chord

Sportstar - - SUPPORTING ROLE - WRIDDHAAYAN BHATTACHARYYA

Back in the day, In­dian cricket largely re­volved around the bats­men. The Sachin Ten­dulkar rev­o­lu­tion in the 1990s had set such a high stan­dard that the ju­nior play­ers thought there was no ca­reer if you were a bowler.

Cut to 201■, and there is a prob­lem of plenty, but that’s also a bless­ing in disguise. If one bowler fails, there are five oth­ers in the pipeline. If a wick­et­keeper is in­jured, there are three oth­ers in the queue.

In to­day’s cricket, no se­nior crick­eter can con­fi­dently say that his place is se­cure. The the­ory is sim­ple. You de­liver, you stay, and it trans­lates across de­part­ments.

In the bat­ting class­room, the bench is flooded with top­order play­ers like Mayank Agar­wal, Shreyas Iyer, Prithvi Shaw and Hanuma Vi­hari. And then there are the mid­dle­order spe­cial­ists like Shub­man Gill and Ankit Bawne. Fast bowlers like Navdeep Saini, Mo­hammed Si­raj, Ankit Ra­jpoot, Kul­want Khe­jroliya and Ra­jneesh Gur­bani are a good blend of con­trol, pace and swing.

How it panned out

Three years ago, when Rahul Dravid joined the In­dia ‘A’ set­up, his vi­sion was to clear as many play­ers for the se­nior level with an im­pres­sive re­port card. Be­ing a man of elab­o­rate plan­ning and prin­ci­ples, he had even met then se­nior team coach Anil Kum­ble and cap­tains Vi­rat Kohli and Ma­hen­dra Singh Dhoni to sketch a roadmap.

He called for warm­up matches and ex­ten­sive tours for the In­dia ‘A’ and Un­der­19 teams. Never be­fore there had been such planned itin­er­ar­ies for the ju­niors.

In the last 12 months, they have played against Eng­land, South Africa — both home and away — New Zealand and next month it will be Aus­tralia. Dravid en­sured the flow was main­tained.

A core group

Along with Paras Mham­brey and Ab­hay Sharma, Dravid formed a core group. Stand­ing at a cru­cial junc­ture of their coach­ing ca­reers, they have earned the power to rec­om­mend play­ers. The an­swer lies in re­sults such as Hardik Pandya, Yuzven­dra Cha­hal, Karun Nair, Kedar Jad­hav and Man­ish Pandey — who passed the ‘A’ test in th­ese years — and to the lat­est batch com­pris­ing Shaw and Gill that won the U­19 World Cup.

Mham­brey, the bowl­ing coach, had a fair knowl­edge on how to run the show as his first as­so­ci­a­tion with In­dia ‘A’ dates back to 2007 — when Dravid was still play­ing in­ter­na­tional cricket. He se­cured a Level­3 coach­ing cer­tifi­cate from the Na­tional Cricket Academy, and is also re­mem­bered for coach­ing Ben­gal to a Ranji Tro­phy fi­nal af­ter a gap of 12 years in 2006. Mham­brey has also coached Bar­oda, Vi­darbha and Ma­ha­rash­tra. The as­sis­tant coach stint with Mum­bai In­di­ans gave him a T20 in­duc­tion. Ab­hay, the field­ing coach, joined the think tank in 2013. Hav­ing played for three teams — Delhi, Rail­ways and Ra­jasthan — he had a fair idea on how to har­ness do­mes­tic play­ers. He earned his de­grees in bat­ting, wick­et­keep­ing and field­ing in Eng­land and went on to coach Rail­ways for seven years. Karn Sharma, the leg­spin­ner, is his pick. Ab­hay also toured with the se­nior team to Zim­babwe in 2016 as field­ing coach.

Axar Patel, Am­bati Rayudu, Ankush Bains, Rishabh Pant, Na­man Ojha — to name a few — have all blos­somed un­der him. But he re­gards Dravid’s ar­rival as the turn­ing point.

“The best thing that has hap­pened to In­dian cricket is Dravid tak­ing care of U­19 and In­dia ‘A’,” he told Sport­star on the eve of the sec­ond four­day game against South Africa

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