Striking the right chord
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