A confidence boost to the boys

JUNIOR India coach Robin Singh is confident of the country's chances in the coming under-19 World Cup.

SANJAY RAJAN

India under-19 captain Ambati Rayudu with his coach Robin Singh on return from Lahore after winning the ACC Tournament. -- Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

JUNIOR India coach Robin Singh is confident of the country's chances in the coming under-19 World Cup. Apart from the conditions in Bangladesh, the venue of the championship in February-March next year, which are similar to India, he said "the recent triumph in the Asian Cricket Council under-19 tournament in Pakistan has been a confidence-booster to the boys". Not to forget that India triumphed the last time the World Cup was held in the sub-contin

In this chat, the former India all-rounder talks about age-group cricket in the country.

Excerpts:

Question. Considering that India has always done well in the sub-continent (it won the Junior World Cup in Sri Lanka in 2000), how would you rate the ACC triumph?

Answer: I was impressed by the manner in which the boys adjusted. I had just two days with them prior to our departure and out of the 14 boys, I knew only 10. At the junior level, most boys find it difficult to execute the skills they are taught, for they are still developing in terms of technique. The seaming conditions at the Gadaffi Stadium in Lahore were a huge test, considering that our boys are used to flatbeds at home. They handled it well.

* What according to you are the gains of the tour?

The response was very positive. As most of them were playing at this level for the first time, they were enthusiastic and anxious to perform. They got better when they realised the importance of staying and discipline. You see, in unfamiliar conditions, if you don't stay at the wicket you can't get runs. In the end, it worked, with the Sri Lankans cracking under pressure in the final.

* Who would be the ones to watch for?

Irfan Pathan (Jr.) and A.T. Rayudu have been knocking on the doors for a while now. But I feel Rayudu has fallen over a little bit. In his anxiety to score runs, he is playing too many shots and as a result his technique is suffering. He needs to go back to the drawing boards. The others are promising, we'll have to wait and see. The batsmen will have to learn to play the rising ball. I know they don't get to play much of it at home, but they will have to work on it, especially with the Junior World Cup round the corner. One can improvise ways and means to play the rising ball — wet tennis ball or get the quickies to bowl from a shorter distance. You see, if you don't have the facility, you have to improvise, which is what I did in my days.

* The focus is on age these days and junior cricket gets a lot of prominence. But most of them fail to make the transition to the senior grade. Why?

A number of factors, really. First of all, the gap is huge. I know of so many who have done so very well for junior India, but struggled to make the Ranji team. Look, it is a long haul between the two. Some of them have it in them to play higher grade, others are good only in this age group. Let's face it; they are two different ball games altogether. Though I must say that the present scenario is youth-friendly, with emphasis being given to age. But they need to develop consistency of mind and of temperament. I think in India, age factor is over-emphasised. I ask how many 19 or 20-year-olds do you see in the Australian and South African sides? In those countries, the boys will have to perform consistently in the domestic circuit to get a look-in. But when they are given a chance, it is usually a long rope. I think India should also take this approach.

* Your views on the country's junior cricket structure?

It is very sound, but a little over-crowded. All these age groups make it very difficult to monitor the boys. Moreover, junior cricket in India is competition-oriented. And there is too much cricket, which is why guys like Pathan and Rayudu look so jaded already. The system is in need of theory classes, where the kids are taught nuances of the game, the mental aspect, the thinking and all that. There needs to be specialised camps on a regular basis and chosen boys need to be monitored through the year. The NCA has been a right step towards this.

For Robin Singh coaching is almost like playing but with the difference of sitting out. -- Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

* Junior international cricketers of India have an advantage over their counterparts in that they are better-exposed, with most of them possessing first - class experience. Your views?

It is true. This is why I say that you have to view performances at the junior level differently. It should be looked at as a step towards the next grade and not a giant leap.

* What do you have to say on India's four matches?

They were low scoring because the conditions were seamer-friendly, making the toss crucial. The strip for the final, however, was a good one; as the organisers had hoped to see the home team contesting it. India lost the opener to Sri Lanka, as our batsmen hadn't adjusted to the conditions after being asked to bat first. It was a must-win for the boys in the next match against Pakistan. I told them to forget who the opposition was and concentrate on just winning. The contest against Bangladesh was a mis-match. India chased for the first time in the final (it won the toss for the first time too). It was a disciplined performance, especially by the bowlers. Later, A.R. Uthappa came up with a neat knock, though I expected him to stay till the end. I also noticed that most teams didn't have bowlers with the discipline needed to operate in seaming conditions. In fact, I changed the batting order, moving the left-handers up because at the junior level most bowlers don't know how to bowl to southpaws.

* How do you feel in your new role?

Coaching assignments were offered to me after I stopped playing international cricket. It's almost like playing, just that you have to sit out. As a coach you have to read the game all the time. It's very challenging.