Shafina Mahesh, the Singapore women's team captain, cannot stop pinching herself. With childlike enthusiasm, she has been taking advantage of the golden ticket that has brought her to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru, where she has been given the opportunity to train under one of the legends of the game: Rahul Dravid.
Shafina is one of 35 young cricketers from 16 Commonwealth countries who have travelled to NCA as part of a month-long training camp initiated by the Indian government and facilitated by the BCCI. The group comprises players of varied age groups: while Shafina is one of the older players - she is 20 - there are trainees as young as 12, coming from countries like Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, Rwanda, Malaysia, and Jamaica, to name a few.
"Just seeing him (Dravid) around here every day is inspiring," Shafina says excitedly. While it has been an overwhelming experience for her, Shafina is not losing sight of her goal, something she reckons this short stint in India has already started helping her with: "I want to be like MS Dhoni. I'm a wicketkeeper. Wicketkeeping is what I've been focusing on here at this camp too."
Luckily, Shafina has been able to get a more focused coaching experience because she is one of the two women wicketkeepers in the group.
"There's a lot we have learnt about our stance, how we get up with the ball, stumping, foot movement, reaction time and other things," she says. "But for me as a batsman, it's been more about going back to basics here. Getting the foundation right and strong because that is the only way to move forward, I've learnt."
Although the programme is supervised by Dravid, other NCA coaches including Apurva Desai, Kalpana Venkatachar, T Dilip and Ragini Malhotra have worked with the group, helping the youngsters understand their skillsets better and widen their knowledge.
Coming from countries where the infrastructure is sparse and, in many cases, the game itself is still developing, the challenges are manifold for all these players. The other big challenge is most players in the group are inexperienced, or too young. And that, Dravid points out, is something he himself was uncertain about when the programme commenced.
"The passion and enthusiasm has been terrific," Dravid told ESPNcricinfo. "It's not easy for some of these boys and girls. Some are 12 and 13, most of them are under 16 years, they're leaving their country and coming for the first time to spend a month here. They probably didn't even know what to expect. Initially, I thought they might struggle but they have the enthusiasm, passion and the desire to play the game."
This enthusiasm has helped Dravid and the coaches to quickly find a connect with the youngsters. "They're always in the indoors [facility], throwing a tennis ball or something. It's been heartening. All the coaches have mentioned that they're happy with the response they've got from these boys and girls, which is all you can expect."
The BCCI has been involved in exchange programmes for a long time with major cricketing countries like Australia and England, which has paved the way for players to upgrade their skills in a professional set-up. The NCA has been key in the BCCI's vision of developing such programmes, especially with Dravid's recent appointment as the academy's head.
The young trainees acknowledge that the state-of-the-art NCA facilities have been eye-opening.
"It's a new experience to train here and learn," 14-year-old Namibian batsman Alexander Volschenk says. "In my country, we practice on concrete pitches and not on turf. So when we actually go and play in South Africa or somewhere else, we're not used to any of that. When we bowl, we end up bowling wides, and we bat inconsistently. But here it's not that way. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"Our national teams have brought in some professional guys but in India they groom players from Under-16 itself. In our country, the focus is more on national players. In India, you have Virat Kohli and four-five other Virat Kohlis in the making, waiting to go. But that's not the case in places where cricket is still coming up."
To smoothen the understanding, Dravid has kept the programme simple and personalised it for each participant, based on his/her background, age, skills, level of cricketing competence, and experience.
"In other camps, most of them have similar abilities, similar sort of experiences of having played the game," Dravid says. "Here you have some people who have more experience, people who haven't played the game, some with very little experience. So we had to tailor-make these things based on every individual's requirements, both on skill side of things and the physical fitness side.
"What each one ends up achieving might be different because they come with different skillsets. In the end, the idea was to give them all a good experience. It was a challenge for our coaches that way. It's been a good exposure for some of the players because they've never had a chance to experience some of these facilities. They've hopefully benefited from it."
While the trainees' visible enthusiasm suggested that the camp was nothing short of a hit, one wonders whether a one-off camp like this one can actually have a long-lasting impact.
"We [at the NCA] would like to be in a position where we can make the maximum impact," Dravid says. "We believe we have the facilities and the know-how to make a real impact on young boys and girls. With better planning, better things can definitely be done."
Just like Shafina, Volschenk wants to go home with new tricks that would serve him well in the future. "I was standing too much on my heels, too upright, they told me how to play by putting more weight in the middle of my feet so that became easy for me," Volschenk says. "But the biggest takeaway would be my bowling, which has improved."
The camp ended on October 30, a bit too soon for teenaged Malaysian quick bowler Dhanusri Muhunan, who says, "To be honest I want this camp to be longer. But I hope they have another camp like this so the ones who've missed out also get a chance."
When they had landed in Bengaluru for the camp starting on October 1, the group was uncertain and anxious: being in a completely new place and learning from people whom they have never met before. But the nerves vanished when they started training alongside some of the best names in Indian cricket.
They met openers Shikhar Dhawan and Smriti Mandhana, and fast bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Some wished they would run into India captain Virat Kohli, who, unsurprisingly, is who most of them aspire to be like.
"I would like to play for West Indies one day and I want to bat like Kohli," 14-year-old Adrian Mahase from Trinidad and Tobago says. "I want to make use of this opportunity to become like him in the future."
As far as Dravid is concerned, though, the best thing would be for the youngsters to return with more of what they came to the camp with: love for the game.
"I just want them to take back the love for the game," he says. "Different people will take different things. Some of them might have had great facilities here but go back to no facilities or matches, but we can't control that. What we can control is for them to get a taste of what's it like to play cricket with such facilities and some improvement in some skills - be it fitness or anything.
"We'd be happy if there's some improvement somewhere. And hopefully some real love for the game, some friendships and good memories."