Dravid: You can get nervous, you cannot control it

"The spinners have a big role to play in Twenty20. I think the teams go in with a minimum of two spinners, if not three...some have the option of bowling four spinners. We need to give them some help on the smaller grounds," says former India captain Rahul Dravid.

"The game has become a lot more professional. Players have a lot more access to information and professional help, especially in areas of physiotherapy, nutrition and diet, access to facilities and infrastructure ...it has gone up by many notches."

Rahul Dravid has played 43 matches for Royal Challengers Bangalore and 46 for Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League and has coached and mentored the latter for two years. This season, he is in the Delhi Daredevils dugout, offering his experience to a new group of exciting Indian players and also allowing England’s Sam Billings and West Indian Carlos Brathwaite to pick his brain.

Dravid is impressed with some of the players' power-hitting. "It seems to me almost no total is safe nowadays. The kind of power-hitting we have seen in the backend of the innings... people are getting better and better at striking the ball. The way players have chased down targets, especially with composure, has stood out in this year’s IPL so far,” he says in an interview to Sportstar.

Excerpts:

Question: You focussed on thousands of deliveries in Tests and ODIs for India. How different is it to remain focussed for 20 overs per innings?

Answer: I know it’s only a 240-ball game, but every ball matters. Margins of victories are sometimes so small. We have already played games like that...I am definitely (nervous)...you cannot control it. When you are sitting outside you are a lot more nervous than when you are actually playing. You are thinking of too many things as well. We played a couple of close games that we won. We lost a match by one run. It’s a 240-ball game, but it’s an intense 240-ball game. It’s like living each one of them. Sometimes you can get quite nervous.

No team has been able to stay unbeaten...

I think all the teams are good. One of things you have got to realise is that every team has some really good match-winners who can win games on a particular day. Every team is pretty well-planned and has good strategies. So it’s always a contest; there are no real easy games to speak of in the IPL. Just because a team may be lower on the points table, it doesn’t mean you can walk in and expect to beat them. If you are not playing well, you can be beaten. That’s reflected in the tight positions on the points table.

The emphasis is very much on the first six overs of powerplay and the last 30 balls…

It’s a question of how a team is balanced in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Obviously if teams have players of the quality of (Brendon) McCullum and (Dwayne) Smith, they are going to go hard at the top and maximise the top six overs. There are other teams which are perhaps strong lower down the batting order and they maximise the last 30 or 40 balls. I don’t think there is a set formula… there are different ways to play. It’s a matter of how you stack your team up. I think it’s critical also to recognise the players in form.

Sam Billings made an observation that he (at the non-striker’s end) learnt a lot about playing spin seeing Karun Nair bat...

I think any conversation and communication works both ways. Just as we encourage Sam to have conversations with our guys, we also encourage young players to watch how Sam plays and find out how creative he is, and also pick his brain about how to bat at the death and in different situations. So it’s a two-way street and it’s up to the players to make the most of it. It is interesting to watch the way Sam has gone about this business. He has taken to the challenge of the IPL and its environment and is learning in it.

This learning aspect is not particular to any one franchise though...

This applies to the whole IPL, it is a great learning environment. Everywhere in the IPL you see such conversations happening. People are sharing knowledge about tactics and strategies. Players must be discussing tactics in the South African dressing room, in Australia or in New Zealand. I am sure they bring the information to the IPL environment as well. Everyone wants his team to win. So the players bring all of that information and at the end of the day, it’s all about how you execute it. Sometimes one can get caught up a lot in theory and tactics. You may have the best theory and tactics, but if the players are not able to execute it...it will not be easy.

You talked about knowledge. How much has it advanced since the time you played?

The game has become a lot more professional. Players have a lot more access to information and professional help, especially in areas of physiotherapy, nutrition and diet, access to facilities and infrastructure ...it has gone up by many notches. There is a lot more at stake. The basics and techniques of the game have not changed for over 120 years, and they are not about to change in 10 years. Yes, people are playing newer shots; they have become more creative...so that’s great to see. Players have been practising differently. You have to coach differently as well because the format demands it. But you cannot get away from the basics of the game.

Some of the shots played have been breathtaking?

The players are redefining what is possible on a cricket field. The scoops....they are able to hit the ball in angles that players of the past did not practise. The nature of the Twenty20 game sometimes forces you to be creative and innovative, with both bat and ball. It’s exciting to see the variations brought about by the bowlers. It’s a good time to be a young cricketer, because the opportunities are there in all three formats of the game. It’s a question of how you balance it out.

But good players can succeed in all formats. Look at Virat Kohli, Steven Smith, Kane Williamson and Joe Root... what they did in the World Twenty20. Yes, we see a lot of power from some of the West Indian players and some big hitting. But we also see some good classical batting coming to the fore. Also people who spun the ball, swung the ball and bowled with pace are successful as well.

I don’t think a team can be made of 11 Virat Kohli’s, but definitely you need the balance of certain players like Kohli and some power hitters at the bottom. It’s a question of getting the right mix. One can find a role for himself in a Twenty20 game, even if you don’t have raw strength and power. It helps if you have strength and power, but you can find other ways to succeed as well.

Do you think the batsmen have outwitted the bowlers having played Twenty20 for so many years?

The batsmen have the advantage because they have 20 overs and 10 wickets. The fact of the matter is that you have long batting line-ups and hence batsmen are able to take more risks in this format. It is not an easy game from a bowler’s perspective because the very nature of the game allows the batsmen to play with freedom that they won’t associate even with 50-overs cricket.

I am also seeing bowlers responding to situations. When you make the contest for the bowlers, on good wickets, big boundaries, one would back them to pull back the scores. The bowlers suffer when you play on grounds with small boundaries and where the batsmen does not even hit the ball cleanly and it still goes out of the ground. You give the bowlers big boundaries...75- or 80-yard boundaries and they will respond very well. A score of 150 or thereabout has been defended in this tournament. We have also seen the converse of 180 or 190 being chased down.

It all comes down to giving the bowlers a fair chance, wherein a batsman hits the ball cleanly, he should get a six, but if he mis-hits it, he should actually be out because the bowler has deceived him. But we are not able to increase the size of the boundaries. I think in the newer stadiums and grounds, the bowlers are holding their sway. I think on smaller grounds we have to make the contest between bat and ball even. The curators need to recognise that they have to give something to the bowlers on smaller grounds, through pace or spin. On big grounds one can maybe play on flatter wickets.

Some openers have done exceptionally well this season. But someone like Virat Kohli tops the batting honours with 433 runs and his team is in the lower half?

The fact is that a team’s No. 1, 2 and 3 have the opportunity to play more number of balls. It’s just logical that they have a good tournament.

Your team has three Indian players who are in the top-four but Shreyas Iyer is still not in good nick…

One of the exciting things for us is that we have a lot of young players, it is a developing team. They will only get better if they play more and are put in tough situations. The objective is to try and help them to develop and grow. Quinton (de Kock) batted well in a couple of games… he is a world-class player. The nature of Twenty20 is such that you are going to take chances and take some risks. The fact is that it’s going to come off some times. And if you are successful 50 to 60 per cent, then I think you have done really well. May be we have not had the starts so far as well as we would have liked to. But I think it’s still early days. I am sure we will hopefully correct that as the tournament goes along.

Karun Nair has scored two half-centuries which were splendid efforts. Any thoughts?

I think he’s playing really well. He has a very good first-class record. He’s in the India 'A' team and also the Test team. Batting in the middle you don’t always get the opportunities; he bats at 3, 4 and 5. It’s always easy to get a number of balls to make a huge impact in Twenty20 and people have to see it that way. In this tournament he has presented himself in such a way (making an impact) because we have not started off well and he has made them (his knocks) count. There might be other days when he may not get opportunities to get 50s and 60s.

Iyer has not had a good tournament, but he has had two great Ranji Trophy seasons. He is a very good player. Look... Karun, Sanju (Samson), these are really young and exciting players. Unfortunately, we have not been able to give Mayank (Agarwal) many opportunities; he played so well for India 'A'. There is young Rishabh Pant as well. So we have these five young batsmen on whom we have faith. I only expect good things from them going forward. It is really up to them to not only play well in the IPL but also in the Ranji Trophy, and start pushing the guys in the national team.

The spinners have taken 90 wickets so far in the IPL. Does this mean spin is king in this format?

The spinners have a big role to play in Twenty20. I think the teams go in with a minimum of two spinners, if not three...some have the option of bowling four spinners. We need to give them some help on the smaller grounds.

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