Dravid on U-19 WC: 'Focus is on team, not individuals'

Rahul Dravid, who is now the head-coach of the Under-19 team, said the World Cup will be an exciting challenge for the Indian colts, insisting on the players focusing on adapting to conditions than fretting over opponents.

Rahul Dravid and Prithvi Shaw during a press conference in Mumbai.   -  Vivek Bendre

Rahul Dravid, who is now the head-coach of the Under-19 team, said the World Cup will be an exciting challenge for the Indian colts, insisting on focusing on adapting to conditions than fretting over opponents.

Prithvi Shaw, the captain of the U-19 team, felt the year-long preparation will help the team perform well in the World Cup.

Excerpts from the press conference held in Mumbai on Wednesday:

Captain has played first class cricket. Is that an advantage?

It’s great to have players who have played some lever - either first-class or List A. It’s always nice to have that. In the last team as well there were six or seven guys who had first class or List A experience. It generally happens. It’s always nice to have players who have played at a slightly higher level. It’s always nice to take players with that experience to play in conditions that are probably going to be slightly different for us. It’s nice to see the boys that have gone on and played at that level.

Biggest challenge?

Dravid: I think the conditions are going to be an exciting challenge. I don’t think any of our boys have played in such conditions. We did a camp in Bangalore and tried to replicate as much as we can. But you can never really replicate that because it is slightly unique. I’ve played there before and things like the wind and stuff are quite unique to any other part of the world. It’s an exciting challenge for these boys to experience that and learn from that. We see that not so much as a challenge but as an opportunity. In terms of pressure, there always the pressure of expectations from everyone. They have their own pressure of expectation as well. But it’s a great opportunity to grow and learn as players.

Shaw: We have a couple of games so I think those games are going to be very important for us before we enter the World Cup.

Keeping the boys away from distractions?

Dravid: We keep reminding that as coaches. We do bring that up once in a while that what’s really the purpose of under-19 cricket and what their aspirations should be. They don’t need to look any further than the previous under-19 teams that played a couple of years ago. There have been boys from the previous teams that have gone up to do absolutely phenomenal and gone on to play for India. There are some who haven’t been able to do that. They have played first-class cricket and haven’t been able to do that just yet. So we just need to guide them to the past and they can learn from that.

Not only words but we’ve also shown in action the way we have looked at under-19 cricket. We see this as a stepping stone and helping these boys to get into first-class cricket or List A cricket after that and hopefully into the India A or the Indian side. Seeing what Washington has done is really heartening to see from our point. Credit to BCCI as well for buying into that.

How do you look at the group in which India is there? 

Dravid: We are not really concerned about who the opposition is, we have got to play, we have got a very good team. One of the nice things about being with these boys for a year or so is that the level of talent and ability we have got in our group, we have got quality in all departments of the game, and for us it is about focusing on our cricket and trying to play sort of our brand of cricket, and just being aware of the different conditions that might be there, it is about adapting to that, adapting to those conditions quickly will be the key to us.

How do you look at the hype of the World Cup and how do you approach it? First step towards stardom..

Shaw: I think this is a very good opportunity for all of us. The hard work we have been putting in for the last three years.. we have been together for the past one year, so I think this is a good chance for everyone. The practice we have done, the practice matches we have played over these months will help us a great deal at the World Cup. As a captain, my motive is to take the team forward. The team has come together well and Rahul [Dravid] sir also mentioned about the ability in the team, there are quality players, there's a lot of trust too, more importantly, we are aware of our responsibilities too, having played Ranji Trophy too. We don't want to clutter our minds too much, we will take it game by game.

Over the last two years, you have spent a lot of time with these young boys. How has this experience changed you as a person and as a coach?

Dravid: I have been learning a lot, learnt a lot over the past few years about coaching and myself. It's been a really good experience, I have enjoyed it. It has given me an opportunity in a lot of ways to spend a lot of time with a completely different generation of cricketers. Young players who have come with a completely different mindset, who have grown up thinking about cricket very differently to the way I thought or grew up.. the game has changed, from this age, they have to focus on all the three formats, we cannot ignore any format of the game. This in itself has its own challenges, even though this is a 50-over format and we are focusing on that. Sometimes, the conversation is about all the three formats of the game. So for me it has been quite a good learning experience and I have enjoyed it.

How much will the performances in the domestic circuit help at the World Cup? And apart from Prithvi, who else would shoulder the major responsibilities?

Shaw: Ranji Trophy is a huge experience for any youngster, all the more when you have scored some runs. That will come in very handy. It will be quite different at the same time because you play against these boys a lot more, things would be quite different at the international level though. Batting wise, in terms of tactics and strategies too, there are a lot of India players too who play Ranji Trophy with us, so all that experience will help a lot.

Dravid: Actually, we have made a conscious effort that we won't focus much on individual players, not at the Under-19 level to focus on one or two players and highlight them. I would definitely reiterate that our team is a good team, it is not about one or two players, of course there are a couple of guys who have played well in the Ranji Trophy or the A series, the media would be aware of them already. But I believe that at this level, you cannot predict who is going to make it big and who is necessarily not going to make it. I definitely believe that our whole squad of 15 boys are good cricketers, and all of them have the potential to do well for their states and for India too.

How similar or different is this team from the one that played in the last World Cup? We are quite similar in a lot of ways, maybe the last time's team had a little bit more experience, give or take two or three guys who were playing their second World Cup in the last one, so we had probably a lit bit more experience and had played a little more Under-19 cricket than these boys. But having said that, the balance of this squad, I see no difference. I think we had a pretty good pace attack last time, we have got a really good pace attack this time as well, quality spinners in our side, batsmen led by Prithvi, pretty good batting unit, again five or six first-class players, even that team last time had pretty much the same.. So not too much of a difference, probably just the fact that some had played a little more Under-19 cricket.

Apart from skill and technique, is there some other method mentally as well to prepare for such a big event?

Dravid: We had a camp in Bangalore and we had tried to get in the boys who had played the World Cup last time, of who about 14 are playing first-class cricket, so whoever was available, we tried to get them to Bangalore and we played three games too. There was an opportunity for an interaction, I wanted these boys to share their experiences. World Cup is an experience surely but life after the World Cup brings a lot of experiences too, so the present crop of boys had an interaction with them in a relaxed environment. We had three good games, tough games.. we managed to get five or seven U-19 players from the last batch, of course we didn't want to pull the others out of the CK Nayudu Trophy or the Ranji Trophy but the ones who were available came up and participated.

Expectations or pressures?

Shaw: We have not really thought about that far, what would happen if we reach the final, who would the opposition be, be it Pakistan or South Africa.. what we have planned for the past one year or so, the way we have practised, the tournaments we have played building up to this, we consciously try and not let the mistakes of the previous game affect the next one. We have a lot of quality in our side, we know our responsibilities, we have some experienced players too, be it when I am batting or just captaining.

How has the experience of playing for Mumbai helped you? And the influence of Rahul Dravid...

Shaw: Whenever I have played alongside Ajinkya [Rahane] sir or Rohit Sharma, I get to learn a lot. When I was playing alongside Ajju sir during the Ranji Trophy game against Odisha, he kept giving pointers during the course of our partnership. When you play alongside such big players, you gain a lot of confidence. Also, Rahul sir ensures there is no negative vibe in the team, he keeps the environment positive - whether it's practice or during matches.