Dravid urges batsmen to rotate strike better
When India collapsed against spin in Galle, they were suffocated by the in-and-out fields set by Sri Lanka. The fours were not available because of the boundary riders, and the batsmen played themselves into a shell by blocking for too long. This four-or-nothing tendency is not just India's problem; many international batsmen struggle against in-and-out fields these days.
It also finds resonance in lower levels of cricket, as Rahul Dravid, who coached India A in series against Australia A and South Africa A, found out. India A lost one four-day match to Australia A on a dry Chennai pitch and against the spin of Steve O'Keefe before coming back with a victory over South Africa A in Wayanad.
While impressed with the young batsmen's ball-striking against spin, Dravid said they needed the ability and patience to build innings around singles when that is all that is available.
"In terms of shot-making ability against spin, this generation is incredible," Dravid told ESPNcricinfo. "The shots they play against spin, like stepping out and hitting sixes, and some of the creativity, is terrific. They have got that. One of the areas that could be a concern for Indian cricket is that there is a lack of balance; people are either defending or hitting big shots and it easy to set fields to that as you can set in-out fields.
"The ability to rotate the strike and construct a partnership when people have put men on the boundary line, and not hitting cover or point all the time, being able to hit to long-on or long-off and playing risk-free cricket, and building an innings against spin on tracks that are slow and turn a bit - I think that's a skill that needs to be worked on and developed, because a lot of the young batsmen are either defending or trying to hit big shots, and there is no in-between. That puts pressure on you because in a high-pressure situation, it becomes hard to play a really big shot and if you keep blocking balls, the pressure builds up on you."
Something very similar happened to India in the Galle Test, but they were not alone. Dravid saw the same with his team too.
"That happened a few times to us [A team] in the last series, where we got ourselves stuck by not rotating the strike and the pressure came on and we lost two-three wickets quickly. That is a skill that definitely needs developing.
"We are not bad players of spin suddenly, but maybe the fact that these boys play a lot of T20 cricket, where the value of the single is not so much, and you can play big shots means that the ability to create the single like VVS Laxman or Mohammad Azharuddin is a skill that needs to be worked on."
The problem didn't restrict itself to batting against spin, Dravid said. Some bowlers find it difficult to create an impact when the batsmen are not going after them. "The same goes for spin bowlers as well, the ability to block people from taking singles and bowling consistently in one area when people are not going after you is a challenge for some of the cricketers in this generation."
With the amount of T20 cricket, this remains a challenge. "I don't think they are struggling to play long-form cricket," Dravid said of the younger players. "There are a lot of long-form players as well. AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli and Steven Smith are tremendous T20 players, and they are playing long-form cricket as well as anyone in any generation or any era. It would be unfair to say that none of them can play long-form cricket. The challenge has changed.
"You are a product of your environment, and now the environment has changed, with there being a lot of one-day and T20 cricket. It is high-pressure T20 cricket. You are practising two months of T20 cricket day in and day out, and suddenly three weeks later you have come to play an A series on a super-dry wicket in Chennai, where you have to learn how to rotate the strike and can't play the same shots. It takes time to adjust. To be fair, as the series went on, the players worked on it and they adjusted and got better at it."
Dravid did not see a lack of love for long-form cricket in the youngsters, but he realised that unlike in his day, succeeding in long-form cricket is not a must today.
"Definitely, just as keen [as I was when I was their age]," Dravid said of the youngsters. "When I look at them, they are very keen to play Test cricket and succeed in four-day cricket at the Ranji level. They all want to do well. I think what has changed is that they don't necessarily need to do it. Today, a living can be made off the sport even if you don't succeed in long-form cricket.
"I think that opportunity never existed to cricketers of my generation. When I was growing up, if you wanted to make a career off the sport and wanted to make the sport you love a profession for a long period of time, you just had to succeed in long-form cricket. Today with T20 cricket, the opportunities have changed.
"You can have a pretty decent life without succeeding in Test match cricket. That has changed, but the desire is still there. They definitely want to do it till they possibly can. They also realise that there is another form we can focus on and do well and make a life for themselves. Why should anyone deny them that?"
Read and watch the full interview here