Synergy is a much-praised management concept, and its application to Indian cricket would undoubtedly reap rich benefits. The India 'A' tour to South Africa presents a shining example of such synergy, where Yashpal Sharma's determination and single-minded devotion, qualities that are outstanding in rags-to-riches stories such as his, rub shoulders with Jagmohan Dalmiya's corporate clout and workaholic zeal.
Sharma himself, when interviewed ahead of his departure for South Africa as coach of the 'A' side, is quick to single out Dalmiya for praise. "The president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is determined to take Indian cricket in the right direction, and that is good," he said.
The tour itself consists of a three-day match and a limited-overs game against the President's XI, as well as two four-day fixtures and two limited-overs matches against South Africa 'A'. Running from March 22 to April 19, the tour ensures that India 'A' gain immense exposure to fast pitches and quality attacks.
The 'A' tour "is a wonderful concept," says Sharma. "It is a move in the right direction. It is exposure for the youngsters at the international level, and by this they stand to gain a lot. They don't feel out of place when they make it to the big league."
When questioned about the targets that he, as a coach, has set for the tour, Sharma displays a wonderful pragmatism. "Obviously we want to win the series. But exposure is the most important thing - to allow players to expose themselves to quality tracks," he said. "This is the second string of players for the 2003 World Cup, and good results here will hold them in good stead."
Sharma pointed out some promising youngsters who had caught his eye while making a point about the recent infusion of fresh blood into the Indian team. "As we saw in the Hyderabad one-dayer, the youngsters have a big role to play in pushing the seniors," he said. "Gautam Gambhir has a big chance of making it big, and so do the others. The selectors have got the balance right; the squad has the potential to do well and it has tremendous balance too. It will be a good experience for fast bowlers like Rakesh Patel, L Balaji, Debasis Mohanty and Amit Bhandari."
The India 'A' coach took time out to praise Balaji in particular. "L Balaji is a good prospect. He has the basic technique. He needs to sharpen his skills," said Sharma. He also had some words to offer on Parthiv Patel. "He is a very good young cricketer and looks very confident. As a wicket-keeper, he is technically very good, and he is also a hard-hitting batsman."
The generation gap is always a worry for the coach of a young side, but Sharma ran up against no such problems. "In just two hours, I could gel with them very well. My approach is that of a senior player, and not exactly as a coach. I am trying to pass on my experience and help build good careers," he said.
Sharma was known in his day as a gutsy and courageous cricketer, always fighting till the last possible moment. He is now on a mission to impart these qualities to the Indian youth. "As a player, I always backed my fighting abilities," he said. "Skill is important, but the most important thing is attitude, and I will try to instill this fighting sprit in the boys."