Just for a moment, step back and imagine if Ravi Shastri was the coach of the India Under-19 Team that won the World Cup. For one, the celebrations would have been wilder and brasher. Secondly, the youngsters would have been encouraged to let their opponents know just how they are feeling and Shastri would have announced to anyone within hearing distance how this is the greatest U-19 team to come out of India... scratch that... the greatest U-19 team the world has ever seen.
But thankfully, we don’t have Shastri. We have Rahul Dravid and in him, Indian cricket has an important counterbalance to the culture that seems to be developing in the senior team.
Dravid’s reaction to the win was a subdued one. He was very happy no doubt but even through the joy what shone out was how – in that moment of triumph – he chose to give his wards some perspective. Many teams and players reserve introspection for defeat, but instead, the U-19 coach reminded them in as subtle a manner as possible, that their journey was just beginning.
“It’s a memory they’ll cherish for a long time and hopefully it’s not a memory that defines them and they will have a lot more bigger and better memories as they go on ahead in their careers,” Dravid said.
This reaction was important because it tells players that there is more than one way to succeed; more than one way to look at things and that it is important to take that judgement call on their own. There will be influences, there will be pressures but as long as you know you trust your reasoning, you will be fine.
That Dravid is good at what he does is pretty evident from the manner in which this team won their matches during the World Cup. But perhaps more important is that he sees himself more as a mentor; as someone who wants the best for his wards rather than as a coach who wants to win at all costs.
The residential camp in Alur in December 2017 reflected this philosophy. There was a focus on team bonding activities. Taking a cue perhaps from movies such as ‘Remember The Titans’ which John Wright has shown the Indian team when Dravid was part of it, the players were split into pairs randomly so that no two members were room-mates for prolonged periods.
Once that was done – pool sessions, volleyball, and football helped foster a good atmosphere. There was work to be done as well. Lots of one-on-one sessions, video analysis and player feedback was given once the team arrived at the NCA after the camp.
Still, one wonders whether Dravid’s coaching philosophy is something that other coaches can imbibe as well or is it unique to the man?
To see what one really means by that, one needs to perhaps go back to 2015 when Dravid first took over as coach of the India ‘A’ and India U-19 team. What follows is a collection of his thoughts through the years:
During the MAK Pataudi lecture in 2015, soon after he took over, Dravid spoke about the need for a uniform Junior Cricket Policy
“Indian cricket should seek to draft and adopt a universally applied Junior Cricket Policy. It doesn’t have to be a mind-numbing 50-page document; it can be a well-explained simple framework.
“There must be strict guidelines as to what a child does at an academy - what age group plays with what ball, how many yards do they bowl from, how many overs they bowl and what the coach-to-child ratio must be. I sometimes see nine-year-olds being made to bowl 22 yards which is terrible for them - in terms of the load on their bodies and the short cuts they take to get to the other end.
“The BCCI must publish a Minimum Standards guideline which academies must adhere to. If they fail, they must be pulled up. We could get the most out of this vast network of academies if they are brought into the formalised structures of the game. And made responsible and answerable to the governors of the game at our highest level.”
An unhealthy cricket obsession
“A single-minded focus on cricket is not a bad thing but the adults need to ensure that it cannot be to the exclusion of all else and become dangerously obsessive. It is worse when approved of by his parents. I know children whose parents upload their scores in matches, photos and videos of their batting in the nets from the time they were little. Four or five years old. Sometimes parents give up their jobs and careers to follow and track their kid’s progress at every step. Imagine the kind of pressure the child will feel, now that he thinks his family’s future is depended on his cricket to an extent? These kids grow up with cricket and only cricket. While they can climb up the ladder, there is every chance, with complete emotional investment in the game, the child may struggle handling the pressure at the top.”
When winning is bad
“As coach of the India U-19 team, over the last few months I have seen quite a few youngsters and many, many matches. When I hear about some Under-19 bowlers being reported for a suspect action, it upsets me deeply. What were the coaches doing until the boy got to that age - 17-18-19? Did his faulty action begin at the age of 10 years old, because his coach had him bowl the full 22 yards? Then as he grew up did his next bunch of coaches just let it go because the boy kept getting wickets and winning tournaments? So, at 19, when an eager, hard-working boy could have played the junior World Cup, he is left trying to correct his action instead. Did this collection of short-term goals achieved through short cuts hurt the child because as adults we turned a blind eye?”
Age fraud and cheating
“I think of this overage business as dangerous and even toxic and to me gives rise to a question: If a child sees his parents and coaches cheating and creating a fake birth certificate, will he not be encouraged to become a cheat? He is being taught to lie by his own elders. At 14 it may be in the matter of the age criteria, at 25 it may be fixing and corruption. How are the two different in any way? In both cases, is it not blatant cheating?”
Do what you enjoy – it is not always about the money
“After I was done playing, I did a few things – commentary, doing corporate speeches. But the thing I enjoyed the most was coaching. Commentary was nice and great, but you just don’t get a fulfillment at the end of the day. Being involved with young people, their lives gave me the most satisfaction. So, purely for selfish reasons I am doing something that gives me satisfaction. I enjoy doing it.”
The importance of failure
“Failing well is very, very important. When we fail, we often tend to brush things under the carpet. We blame someone, we always tend to find an excuse. When you do things like that, you lose an opportunity to fail well. When you fail, you have an opportunity to understand yourself. Failure teaches you to deal with tough situations. The more you put yourself on the line, you will learn to get better.”
“We keep the bigger picture in mind. From the players’ perspective, they want to win every game. But if you see the lead up to it, what has been satisfying for me is that we’ve given 30-35 people an opportunity to represent India Under-19 at some level in some form over the last 14 months before finalising this squad. We ensured we didn’t pick people who had played last time, ensuring a fresh group keeps coming through. Those things are pleasing in the background, but when you get into a tournament like this you play every game to win, try and do your best to win this tournament.”
Be true to yourself
“Sometimes, especially before an Australia series, you’ll find Virat saying the most outrageous things. And I read the paper and cringe at times. But then I think back, maybe he actually wants that contest. He wants that lip on the field because that gets the best out of him. Now that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But at the end of the day, he’s got to do what gets the best out of him. Ajinkya Rahane is very different and he gets the best out of himself by doing different things. I think being authentic to yourself is very, very important. If engaging in a contest, sometimes needling the opposition, is getting the best out of Virat - and it certainly is because his level of performance is second to none in the world today - then so be it. You can’t blame him for it. What worries me a little bit is a lot of that gets translated into junior cricket. That’s the scary thing for me, not so much what Virat does. Kids at 12, 13, 14 want to become the next Virat Kohli, not realising that maybe that’s not authentic to who they are.”
Stuck in U-19
“When I took over the U-19 coach, one of the things I felt was that people stay on and play too much of U-19 cricket, which I think is very dangerous so we took a decision of not allowing anyone to play more than one World Cup. Guys like Washington Sundar, Zeeshan Ansari and Mahipal Lomror have all been picked in their respective Ranji Trophy teams. Even the state associations are looking ahead and not forcing them to keep playing in U-19. Their mindset and horizon are increasing. I think age-group cricket has a purpose to solve but it is a limited purpose and from then on you have to play men’s cricket.”
All these thoughts only go to show that Dravid has a very different bent of mind – he always had that – and that it is good for these youngsters to be exposed to this sooner rather than later. In that sense, he is a necessary counterbalance in a world where naked aggression often seems to be valued more than steely resilience.
As Mathew Hayden once said: “To me aggression is of two types. There is real aggression and then there is pretence. You have to look into someone’s eyes to see if there is any real aggression. When I look into Rahul Dravid’s eyes I know that though he might not be outwardly aggressive, he is inwardly aggressive: he wants to hit the ball, he wants to seek out opportunities. He has got fire in his belly. A lot of the aggression that you see now, like staring and chatting, is all guff. That is just a waste of time.”
Perhaps the time with Dravid might have taught Prithvi Shaw and the squad that there is a lot more to cricket than just winning and that there is a lot more to aggression than just being in the face of the opposition. One can be pretty sure that this is what Dravid would have wanted the most.