Hrishikesh Kanitkar reflects on U-19 World Cup triumph

India U-19 coach Kanitkar discusses the process behind identifying champions and the road for the future. 

File Photo of Hrishikesh Kanitkar.   -  R. Ravindran

Hrishikesh Kanitkar did not win a World Cup as a player. Among his 34 ODIs and two Tests for India, he is remembered for finishing two crucial finals. The southpaw had smashed Saqlain Mushtaq for a boundary to take India home with a ball to spare in the Silver Jubilee Independence Cup Final against Pakistan in Dhaka in 1998.

A few months later, Kanitkar hit the winning four off Tom Moody in the Coca Cola Cup final against Australia in Sharjah, better known as the desert storm series of Sachin Tendulkar. 

The former India all-rounder, also a domestic giant with 10,400 first-class runs, is now a World Cup winner. He coached the U-19 cricket team to triumph in the West Indies. 

Before resuming his job as the batting coach at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, Kanitkar spent a few minutes with Sportstar to reflect on the junior World Cup, the process behind identifying players and plans for the future.

Q: Congratulations on the World Cup win. What is next for Kanitkar- the coach?

A: After the World Cup, we cannot think too ahead for the next one, which is two years away. You cannot build a team right now as there will be a lot of matches from now till then. There could be a lot of new names that may come up who are not there now as they might be too young. But there are zonal camps by the NCA in the U-19 and U-16 levels. We get a shortlist of players on their abilities, skill-sets and how they have fared. You slowly start concentrating on less number of players ultimately. It is performance-based as they get a lot of opportunities. They attend camps where they are minutely observed by the coaches. And there are a few NCA camps in Bengaluru for the best players. It is a long process and not necessarily pointed towards the World Cup. It is how the system works.

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How do you gauge a player's ability at the U-19 level? How do you identify a captain at such a young age?

One big thing is how other players react to a captain. Do they command that respect? We have to see if the captain feels respected by his teammates. If he gets to lead in the match, and if others feel he is the wrong choice, it will be tough. 

Yash Dhull was a good choice for captain...

He was a clear candidate because he is a super batter. And everyone gets along well with him. And the way he reacts to situations is crucial. He is proactive and hands-on.

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Yash scored two centuries on his Ranji Trophy debut. Do you think today's U-19 youngsters are a tad smarter than the players from previous generations when it comes to adapting?

I don't think that's the case. It's just that these guys play a lot more matches where a lot of things are at stake. They know how to play under pressure. And since Rahul Dravid stepped into the U-19 picture, he started an effective system; how they play those matches and how it percolates down to a team. We get a lot of players with game time and trained by good coaches. By the time they graduate from U-19, they are more or less prepared for first-class cricket.

Do you also teach the kids how to speak to media and broadcasters? 

We do speak to them, but it is more on the lines of making them feel comfortable at interviews. They get conscious, and at times, the questions will have an accent if you are playing abroad. It is important to tell them to be fine with it. We tell them to speak in Hindi if they want to; there will be an interpreter. We want them to open up while speaking. They should be able to say what they want to say. English is not the only language. There are so many footballers and tennis players speaking in their languages. We just need to give them the confidence to speak. The more exposure they get, their English will develop.

What lies next for you at the NCA?

I am the batting coach with NCA. And VVS Laxman will decide who I work with. Somebody might be there for rehab, somebody could be there for a camp or batting practice. 

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