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Rahul Dravid: Winning series against Sri Lanka the priority

Coach says even if younger players don't get game-time, tour will be a great learning opportunity

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Rahul Dravid, India's head coach for their limited-overs tour of Sri Lanka, is clear that their main objective is to win the series, and not necessarily just look to help players gain experience and match time, a method he has implemented with great success at the India A and India U-19 levels.
"There are a lot of people in the squad who are pushing for places ahead of the T20 World Cup coming up, but the key goal, and we've had discussions around it, is to try and win the series," Dravid said on Sunday, ahead of the team's departure to Colombo for three ODIs and three T20Is.
"That is the primary objective. Hopefully if people can get the opportunity to put in some good performances in the course of us trying to win the series, they will give themselves the best chance of knocking on the doors of the selectors."
Tour objectives aside, Dravid encouraged the younger players to soak in the experience of being part of an Indian team on an overseas tour, and not treat the tour as a life-and-death situation. The message is: "Good performances will be great, but a few off days won't mean the end of the world."
"There are a lot of young kids, even if they don't play, it's a great opportunity to be on a trip with the Indian team and interact with seniors like Shikhar (Dhawan, the captain), Bhuvneshwar (Kumar, the vice-captain), Hardik (Pandya)," Dravid said. "There's a lot they can learn from that experience. The young boys coming on this trip, they'll all be keen to do well and set some sort of markers for the selectors.
"Whether they get selected for the T20 World Cup or not, that's a call the selectors will take, but being on a tour like this and playing against an international quality opposition, if you're able to put a marker and show the ability to do it at this level, the selectors will start to take note. But by no means is it a life and death kind of a situation. It doesn't mean if you don't have a good tour, you won't make it, or if you have a great tour, you'll be an automatic pick. There's a lot that goes into it."
Much of the team's plans, Dravid said, will be finalised after he has a set of chats with the Indian team management that is currently in England for a five-Test series. As such, the upcoming three T20Is in Sri Lanka will be India's only games in the format ahead of the T20 World Cup in October-November. Prior to that, though, most of the players, will feature in the remainder of IPL 2021 in the UAE.
"These are the only three games before the T20 World Cup and I am sure the selectors and management would have a fair idea by now on the squad they are looking for. There is going to be an IPL as well in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup," Dravid said. "This gives a few people an opportunity for the one or two places the team management or the selectors may be looking for, and give them a few more options. That would be the goal for the next three T20s.
"There are a couple of selectors travelling with us, so it gives me a chance to interact with them and see what they are thinking, what their ideas are. I've had a little bit of contact with the team management in England, but I didn't want to disturb them during the WTC, but I will touch base over the next couple of weeks and see what their thoughts are, what they are thinking about the T20 World Cup and see if we can implement some of those plans for the next three games."
Asked to explain if such a multi-format arrangement, where India have one set of players competing in a Test series and another playing elsewhere in white-ball cricket, is the way forward, Dravid underlined the importance of being practical in a post-pandemic world.
"This is a unique situation in terms of quarantines and rules that have led to this situation," Dravid said. "It's very hard to predict what will happen even on a month-on-month basis. With quarantines as structured as they are and travel restricted, at least in the short term this plan allows you to complete tours and engagements.
"India probably had no option for this tour. I'm not sure if it is a long-term solution though, because there are many more stakeholders involved: other boards, broadcasters, sponsors, media rights. Certainly, in the short term, this could ease pressure because it's becoming difficult for the same set of players to go through all the restrictions in place to play all formats. So yes, in the short term a good idea but for the long term, it'll need lot more discussions."
The Dhawan-led squad will land in Colombo early on Monday, following which the team will undergo three days of hard quarantine before beginning training in a controlled manner as per guidelines laid out by Sri Lanka Cricket. The tour begins with the ODI series (July 13, 16 and 18) followed by the T20Is (July 21, 23 and 25). All matches will be played at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo