Dravid: Nobody wants to be just an U-19 cricketer

"My message to the team is to focus on actually improving, getting better, seeing this as an opportunity to learn and grow as a cricketer, to see this World Cup as another exposure they are getting at a very young age"

India under-19 coach Rahul Dravid and captain Ishan Kishan in Mumbai.   -  Vivek Bendre

The last time Rahul Dravid sat in front of a packed conference hall of the BCCI headquarters before leaving for an ICC event, it was way back in 2007; then the captain of India, one could feel the stress on his face as Greg Chappell, the controversial coach, continued to steal the limelight.

Cut to Tuesday, and it was Dravid’s turn in the spotlight. On the eve of India Under-19 team’s departure for the U-19 World Cup, so relaxed and jovial was Dravid, the coach, that he even cracked jokes.

“Seems like captains from Jharkhand seem to do well,” he said, referring to captain Ishan Kishen, sitting by his side, and quickly clarifying “that was a joke”. But when it came to discussing the prospects of India Under-19 in the biennial event, Dravid was at his elocutionary best.

“My message to them is to focus on actually improving, getting better, seeing this as an opportunity to learn and grow as a cricketer, to see this World Cup as another exposure they are getting at a very young age,” Dravid said.

“They are lucky to get this at a young age. That’s all I tell them about: it is just one step in their journey hopefully as cricketers. Nobody wants to end up being just an Under-19 India cricketer. That is not the aspiration of anybody in that dressing room. Not just 15 but each one of the 36 we started with (in the Challenger tournament in October last year) wants to go on and represent India and hopefully get to play a senior World Cup for India.”

Dravid didn’t want any of the squad members to be bogged down by the pressure of winning.

“This is just one more opportunity to learn, to grow, just to get a little bit more exposure, foreign exposure, play against teams or boys of your age overseas. Like I always keep reminding them there are enough examples of people who go on to play India Under-19 but don’t go on to represent India,” he said.

“Conversely there are very good examples of people who have played at this level and then actually gone on to represent India. The important thing you have to go on from here score runs in first-class cricket, score runs in List A games and then get the recognition from the selectors.”

Despite starting the preparations barely three months ago, Dravid was satisfied with the team’s preparations. “We were very conscious of, and aware of, that fact that the Under 19s hadn’t played a lot of cricket before the last couple of months. For the last two years there had not been a lot of Under 19 cricket. The last time the Under19 team actually played a match together was at the last World Cup before we reassembled in November and tried to get as many games going as possible,” he said.