(By Rahul Pandey)
In any stream of life, winning comes the hard way. By tirelessly working for hours on your craft, without thinking much of the result. By sacrificing the few valuable assets in your life, family, friends, love or all in all, an easy living. Nothing can be achieved by lying on the bed of roses, you’ve got to walk on the thorns to leave a dent in this vast universe. It is exactly what a group of Indian boys had done over the course of last one and a half years. They had given sweat and blood for their passion, for their country.
When the Saurashtra based batsmen Harvik Desai hit the winning runs, the India U-19 skipper Prithvi Shaw accompanied by his teammates, roared towards the pitch in glee. It was the moment for which they had given up everything. The whole cricket fraternity watched in awe as India became the ICC U-19 World Champions for a record fourth time. Every single Indian at the Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui, New Zealand was screaming and celebrating with their hearts out. But as the camera personnels pulled their attention towards the dressing room stairs, out came a 45-year old Indian wearing his blue guard of honour with pride and exuberance that was second to none, but with no sign of even the slightest of joyous outburst. It was difficult for the world to realize that this was the first ever World Cup title of any sort for Rahul Dravid, but it was only he who knew that this moment didn’t really belong to him. Such has been the Dravid philosophy from his first day at the office.
No matter how hard he tries to deny it, but their won’t be a single player from the likes of Ajinkya Rahane to Prithvi Shaw who would deny the sheer importance of the ‘Indian wall’ in their foundation. So let us walk ourselves through the journey of a legendary batsman turned world-class coach.
Dravid’s first stint as a coach with Rajasthan Royals in the 2012 season. He was the coach-cum-captain-cum-mentor of the IPL franchise. The results of course didn’t came immediately as Royals were crashed out of the 2012 season of the IPL in the group stages. But the former Indian skipper had started a process which was to earn him a lot more than a domestic league title. In his 4 seasons as a coach and a mentor, Rajasthan Royals qualified twice for the playoff stages but more so they produced some fine young talent. Sanju Samson, Deepak Hooda, Dhawal Kulkarni were the few that were nurtured under the ace Indian cricketer. But one of the biggest achivements of his time as coach was, Ajinkya Rahane. The 29-year old who was an exquisite talent even then, was moulded into a more subtle form of art by Dravid, a glimpse of which can be seen in the way he went on to score one of the most orthodox centuries ever in T-20 cricket against RCB in the 2012 season. Apart from refining the individual talent, a more justifiable statement of his team build-up came from Sanju Samson during the 2014 IPL season.
“Before every game, a youngster is called by him [Rahul] and asked for his advice, on how the team should approach in this partcular game.” This mentality towards involving every single player, made Dravid the number one choice for a bigger assignment.
In June 2015, he took over as the U-19 and India-A coach from the current Indian bowling coach Bharat Arun. It was not the best of the times for the Indian Junior cricket as the U-19 team was knocked out in the quarter-final stages of the World Cup in 2014 by England, despite of winning all the group stage games. Though a bunch of young talents emerged such as Kuldeep Yadav, Shreyas Iyer and skipper Vijay Zol. But still a lot had to be done on the grounds of management. Why was it that a cricket fanatic nation such as ours, which had the biggest names in the world cricket was so disparate when it came to the junior cricket.
In his first year in-charge, Dravid guided the Unmukt Chand led India-A side to win the triangular series’ against South Africa and Australia-A, and Bangladesh and Afghanistan-A. As the U-19 World Cup was close-by, Dravid came up with his plan of preparation and submitted it to the BCCI. The U-19 team flourished in subsequent triangular series against England U-19 and Sri Lanka U-19. He even asked BCCI to arrange practice matches against Board President’s XI and urged them to include some international players. And since it was Rahul Dravid, who came up with the idea, what followed wasn’t surprising. Playing against a quality team with players such as Abhinav Mukund, Jayadev Unadkat, Ishwar Pandey and a few other domestic giants, Indian Colts defeated the Board President’s XI by 23 runs.
One part of the game where Dravid always emphasized on was the build up of a strong bunch of players in all sense rather than the results. It is with this principle that the Ishan Kishan led side went into the 2016 ICC U-19 World Cup as one of the favourites. They sure did live upto their reputation by winning all the group stage games, quarter-final and the semi-final in a convincing fashion. The sheer dominance of the side was something that led the big time pundits to sit back and acknowledge the work that Dravid and co. had done over the last few months. All the games had been won by big margins, oozing the air of superiority of the Indian colts.
The final however was a different story for a team that had been a cut above the rest. In the summit clash, the West Indies side restricted the Indian lineup for a mere 145. Although the Indian side showed what they had been asked by their coach at all times; character. As wickets kept tumbling from one end, Sarfaraz Khan ensured that his side reached a respectable total. Even the bowlers put up a fight as India notched up few early wickets and had once tangled the Windies at 77-5 but just couldn’t keep the momentum going as they lost the final by 5 wickets. The defeat was India’s first in U-19 cricket since 2014. Quite understandingly the heads were dropped down in despair. It was at that instant that the coach came up with the words of gold for his wards, ” You are the champions for me.” It is what inspired the same set of players to go on and win the U-19 Asia Cup in December 2016.
Dravid’s approach towards the India-A team was slightly different. He wanted to ensure maximum players got promoted to the senior team and boy he did that with some panache. In 2016, India-A tour to Australia a 23-year old Hardik Pandya was struggling to make his mark, especially with the bat. But as the tour was on it’s business end, he went on to score a patient 79* in a second unofficial test match which did him a world of good. Two months later he was called up for the senior ODI team. And as we all know the Baroda based batsmen hasn’t shy away from performing at the top level. “For me everything changed after my tour of Australia with India-A. I can’t but thank Rahul Dravid for his contribution, he made me mentally stronger.”
Not only Pandya, the likes of Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Karun Nair, Shreyas Iyer, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jayant Yadav, who have all played under Dravid and have acknowlegded his role in their enhancement.
Meanwhile the next U-19 team was in the making with a new set of promising young talent. In July 2017, when Anil Kumble was forced to step down as senior team coach following a rift with the then skipper Virat Kohli, Dravid was also approached as a favourite to take over the task, which he rejected by saying that, “I am not at all interested to work at senior level, there are other individuals who i know will fulfill this task in a fantastic way. As of now i only want to focus on the U-19 and India-A teams.
The veteran’s everlasting trust in the young prodigy has always been evident. During the 2016/17 Ranji season, Mumbai were struggling to find an opener ahead of the semi-final clash. However a single phone call from selector Milind Rege to Dravid gave him an altogether new prospect. 18-year old Prithvi Shaw was given the chance and the rest is history. The right-handed batsman went on to score 120 in the second innings and inspired Mumbai to a win in the semi-final. Such instances gave a clear cut sign of what was to follow in the U-19 World Cup 2018.
The Indian colts came up with only one thing in mind, win and win big. The message from the Guru was clear. If you want to achieve your goal, you have to give up everything even mobile phones and just work as a unit until the the finish line isn’t crossed. All of this gave the Indian fans pure joy, 6 wins in 6 games, including a demolishing performance in the semi-final and final, against two of the biggest rivals in world cricket [Pakistan and Australia]. But more than results, the tournament ensured that Indian Cricket ke Acche din kahi nahi jaa rahe. Alongside the skipper Shaw, Man of the tournament Shubhman Gill, Centurion in the final Manjot Kalra and bowling sensations such as Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Ishan Porel and many more have showcased the glimpses of an even brighter tomorrow in Indian cricket. To add to the joy of arduous sports lovers in India, Dravid recently ended his association with IPL franchise Rajasthan Royals and extended a two year contract with the U-19 and India-A team
Behind every great performance of a stage artist there are many people who work endlessly, without coming up front in the beaming spotlight. It is quite rare that these contributions are recognized. And in those rare instances, BCCI announced 30 lakh rupees to each player of the U-19 team and 50 lakh to the coach in a gesture that reflects the importance of the backstage artist. But apart from the materialistic gains what really defines Rahul Dravid- the coach are his own words.
“I hope this U-19 World Cup win doesn’t define their career, as they have the ability to achieve a lot more in world cricket”, said a 45-year old who had seen the dream of lifting the World Cup ever since he was a kid. But no one in the world could describe his emotions, as his students, his boys did the same for the nation in front of his eyes. You couldn’t have possibly written a better script.