The guiding force

India under-19 coach Bharat Arun (right) with skipper Unmukt Chand (centre).-VIVEK BENDRE India under-19 coach Bharat Arun (right) with skipper Unmukt Chand (centre).

Bharat Arun, the former India fast bowler, who once operated in tandem with Kapil Dev in two Tests, remains the quintessential backroom engine high on efficiency and output. In Arun, the junior crop has found a fine mentor, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Self-effacing to a fault, Bharat Arun prefers the spotlight to trail his wards and support staff. He would rather be in the shadows while astutely guiding a bunch of lads, who despite being at an age that has its worries about acne and adolescent angst, rallied brilliantly around their coach to help the Indian flag flutter proudly at Townsville in Australia.

Like a mother, who loves all her children equally, the Indian under-19 cricket team coach, too, struggles when asked to pick his key players in a successful World Cup campaign because he believes that every member is critical to the squad’s progress. He does open up about the boys who made the difference but more importantly sheds light on the strategies that helped the nation win the under-19 title for the third time.

The journey towards the winners’ podium started 18 months ago. “The BCCI displayed foresight and paved the way as we played in three tournaments ahead of the under-19 World Cup — Quadrangulars in Visakhapatnam, Australia and then the Asia Cup. Thanks to that, we ended up playing all teams except South Africa in the build-up to the World Cup. We won all these tournaments and that bolstered our self-belief,” Arun said.

As the days ticked closer towards the Australian sojourn for the premier global tournament in junior cricket, Arun and his support staff goaded Unmukt Chand and company to arrive at an over-riding theme that will course through their World Cup campaign. “The players came up with three ideas: 1. Absolute self-belief; 2. Communication; 3. Controlled aggression. And since they came up with these suggestions, that also was in sync with what we thought, the players had that sense of ownership and strived hard to live up to those principles,” the proud coach said.

During its stint at Bangalore’s National Cricket Academy, the team also travelled to the jungles of Bandipur and Nagarhole and indulged in bonding exercises and out-of-the-box assignments. The ‘we-are-one-and-we-will-win’ precept was embraced whole-heartedly in the leafy environs and all these initiatives bore fruit. The team did suffer a stumble with an opening game loss to the West Indies but Arun stressed that it did not affect the morale.

“The West Indies had a fine pace attack and they were clocking 140km and it was our first match and the boys took time to settle down. Yet we ran the West Indies close and the contest was over only in the 48th over. We may have lost a match but we never lost heart,” Arun said.

Even before the dust settled at Townsville after India’s triumph against Australia in the final, Ian Chappell wrote that skipper Unmukt and left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh are ready to be fast-tracked into the senior Indian squad. Asked about the former Australian captain’s perspective, Arun said: “Yes, Unmukt and Harmeet have performed exceptionally well at this level but they need to prove themselves at the next level, which is extremely competitive. Yes they need to be encouraged but fast-tracking them without enough exposure at the next level may actually harm them.”

And as the conversation drew to a close, Arun implored: “Please mention that the support staff did a fabulous job. The fielding coach, physio, trainer and computer analyst did their parts brilliantly. It is the small things that add up to the bigger picture and without their effort, things would have been difficult.”

As for his contribution to the team, Arun would rather keep mum. The former India fast bowler, who once operated in tandem with Kapil Dev in two Tests, remains the quintessential backroom engine high on efficiency and output. In Arun, the junior crop has found a fine mentor.

* * * Arun's report card

Unmukt Chand: He is mature beyond his years and he also passes that confidence to his team-mates and that is a remarkable trait.

Baba Aparajith: He has all the makings of a fine all-rounder.

Sandeep Sharma: Bowler of the tournament and he got early wickets in all the games.

Smit Patel: Was good behind the wickets and came up with a gem — 62 not out — in the final.

Ravikant Singh: Find of the tournament and bowled brilliantly.

Arun also lauded the efforts of Harmeet Singh, Vijay Zol, Vikas Mishra and Prashant Chopra besides thanking the rest for their unsung contributions.