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Dravid 'not disappointed' with young batters, says they will 'keep improving and getting better'

Coach credits inexperienced players for "spirit" and "enthusiasm" throughout 45 days in bio-bubble

Saurabh Somani
After a seven-wicket thrashing in the third T20I which ended in a series loss for a severely-depleted India XI, India coach Rahul Dravid felt that all that was needed was for the young batters to adapt to tougher pitches, also pointing to the unique set of circumstances that led to a very inexperienced batting line-up taking the field for the last two T20Is.
"This was a really young team. All of us have had our struggles playing quality bowling, whether it's spin or pace," Dravid said at the post-match press conference. "Early on in our careers, we've all had those struggles and we've all had to fight our way through that. None of us have been perfect when we started, whether it's my generation or any generation for that matter. It needs experience.
"You need time, you need to blood young players with experienced players so that they have that cushion. Obviously, over the last couple of games, we didn't have that cushion. Most of the guys who played, other than Shikhar [Dhawan], were really young. That's not going to happen very often."
"Maybe the one thing that's slightly different is that when I was starting or was growing up, the pitches in domestic cricket tended to turn a little bit more and spun a bit more," he added, when comparing the current generation's challenges to his own. "To be honest, some of them were under-prepared. But I don't think the talent is missing, either in spin bowling or in the batting. We just need a little bit more experience in being able to figure out a few more different kinds of shots when we're challenged with these kind of pitches. We just need to figure out a couple of more options. It was tough batting for them (Sri Lanka) as well."
With nine players unavailable for selection due to Krunal Pandya testing positive for Covid-19 before the second game, India couldn't put out a balanced XI for the final two T20Is, going in with five batters and six bowlers, and having Bhuvneshwar Kumar - whose most frequent batting position in ODIs and T20Is has been No. 9 - up at No .6. They still stretched Sri Lanka to the final over while defending 132 in the second T20I, but could muster only 81 for 8 in the third.
"We've only seen the hotel and the ground, and even in the hotel it's only certain parts of the hotel. We haven't been able to go everywhere in the hotel as well."
Dravid on India's life in the bio-bubble in Sri Lanka
Playing with only five batters meant tactical changes in terms of how the team would construct an innings, and the pitches in the last two games offered a fair bit to the spinners too.
"I just think the balance of our team in the last couple of games meant we had a couple of batsmen short, which was always challenging. But the great positive for me was the way the guys have fought," Dravid said. "Especially in the second game, I think we took it really close. [A] couple of balls here or there and we could have actually won that game.
"We're kind of used to playing games where the scores are 160, 180, sometimes 200. But sometimes in challenging conditions, you've just got to learn how to scrap and fight your way to 130-140. I think that's a great learning for our young players."
Dhawan apart, the other four batters for India were Ruturaj Gaikwad, Devdutt Padikkal, Sanju Samson and Nitish Rana. Among them, only Samson had any prior international experience before the Sri Lanka tour; and precious little at that, with just seven T20Is.
"I'm not disappointed," Dravid said of the batting performance. "They are young batters, they have to keep improving and getting better. The Sri Lankan team's bowling attack is their international bowling attack. They're missing a few batsmen because of various reasons, but this is a top quality attack. So it's a great opportunity to reflect on these performances, reflect on these conditions, and maybe come up with some slightly better strategies.
"Let's be fair, you don't get these sort of conditions very often in T20 cricket, but when you do, I think you need to have a response. You need to be able to play slightly better. They're all youngsters, we just need to have patience with them, give them more opportunities so that they can develop and grow."
The last two T20Is were played on successive days, but the Indian squad had to spend a lot more time off the field than on it. From quarantining in Mumbai a fortnight before the tour to having to deal with rescheduling of matches when there was a Covid outbreak among the Sri Lankans, in a period that lasted a month and a half, there were only six days of cricket.
"I must admit it's not been easy," Dravid said of the bubble life the team had to endure. "It's been almost 45 days for us and the thing was we only played six matches in those 45 days for a variety of reasons. We've only seen the hotel and the ground, and even in the hotel it's only certain parts of the hotel. We haven't been able to go everywhere in the hotel as well. It's just a credit to all the boys, the way they maintained their spirit, maintained the enthusiasm, worked really hard. I can't fault any of the boys for their effort.
"The way Shikhar and Bhuvi [Bhuvneshwar Kumar, vice-captain for the tour] and the leadership group [led], the environment that they created was terrific as well. Just as much as it was tough for us and not an easy situation to be in, we're lucky to play cricket as well. In times like this over the last year and a half, we've seen a lot of people go through a lot of suffering, go through some very, very difficult times. In some ways, we feel blessed to be able to do what we can and what we do. I can't really be more proud of the way the boys handled themselves over 45 days, having only six matches to play."

Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo