Dravid urges U19 players to work towards India cap
India Under-19 coach Rahul Dravid has said that best message he can give his players heading for the World Cup in Bangladesh is to treat it as a stepping stone on their journey towards the national dressing room. This would be Dravid's first major assignment in the job, but he is "not trying to win the World Cup" as a coach. Instead, he is focussed on helping the youngsters grow into capable players who can graduate towards playing for the national team in the future.
"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 at the pre-departure media briefing in Mumbai. "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 we are sitting."
According to Dravid, just being consumed by the thought of winning the World Cup would not serve the young players well considering they ought to focus on the long-term goal of working towards earning the Indian cap. "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. 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 is 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."
As a player himself, Dravid participated in three World Cups with the national team (1999, 2003, 2007), with the last one as captain where India bowed out in the group stages. Dravid emphasised that he was not looking at the Under-19 tournament to cover up for the absence of a World Cup trophy in his career. He pointed out that his impact as a coach would always be limited. Hence it was important the players understood it was for them to work hard and execute the plans drawn by him and his coaching staff comprising Paras Mhambrey (fast bowling coach) and Abhay Sharma (spin bowling coach).
"I am not really going into this [tournament thinking] if we win it or if we lose it," Dravid said. "I know the role of a coach. And I know how much a coach can influence and impact a result. I am realistic about that. I knew how much I could impact the result as a player and I am realistic about how much I can impact the result as a coach. So it is in their hands. It is their opportunity, their team, their World Cup. And it is their opportunity to win the World Cup. Not necessarily mine as a coach really.
"I am not trying to win the World Cup as a coach. I am trying to hopefully grow and develop these guys. Winning the Under-19 World Cups is honestly not the be all and end all of anything. In the end I will be happier if some of these guys go on and play for India. That should be their aim and real aspiration."
In the previous edition of the tournament, played in the UAE in 2014, India had finished fifth after failing to make the semi-finals, but had topped Group A with three wins from as many matches. This time Dravid is more confident about what he calls a balanced Indian squad. The other teams in India's group are New Zealand, Nepal and Ireland, but Dravid pointed out that he would not read too much into the oppositions at this stage.
"One of the things about Under-19 [is that] you don't really know, you don't have enough knowledge about a lot of Under-19 teams. So I am not really focussed on who we are going to play against. It is really about can we do what we do well. Now I believe there is a lot of talent in the group. We are covered in all departments. We have got good fast bowlers, we have got very good spinners, we have got allrounders, we bat deep upto No. 8. So we have got it all covered. It is about executing our skills and the boys performing under pressure. If they play well and if they perform upto the potential that I have seen over the last two months then I don't think we need to worry too much what the other teams are like."
India's 15-member squad will be led by Jharkhand batsman Ishan Kishan. Their first match of the World Cup will be against Ireland on January 28 in Mirpur.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo