While most of his contemporaries are busy either commentating, dabbling in various sports leagues or embarking upon careers as administrators, former India captain Rahul Dravid has been grinding it out as coach of India 'A' and Under-19 teams to give the country its next batch of match-winners. The 44-year-old talks to Aditya Chaturvedi about his approach to coaching junior cricketers, the upcoming India-Australia series and what sets Virat Kohli apart in this exclusive interview.
I really enjoyed my coaching and mentorship stint with the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League (IPL). It was nice to interact with some of the younger players and share my experiences with them. So, when the opportunity came up, I thought it would be a good idea to start with the Under-19 and 'A' levels. Also, I must be honest, junior cricket doesn't require as much time away from home as say the national team does. So, I guess it worked out both ways: I enjoy working with this age group and it also isn't as time-consuming.
The approach would differ in the sense that at the India 'A' level, you're working with more experienced players, players who are at the cusp of playing for India. At that stage in their careers, they already have a method or formula that's successful. Else they wouldn't have made it that far. So as a coach, you're not tinkering with them too much. You're simply guiding and helping them. I find myself talking to them more about tactical stuff and making strategies to deal with the mental aspect of the game. Whereas with the Under-19 team, it can be slightly different. You can have a little more technical inputs involved as they're still at a developmental stage in their careers. Even though I don't like over-coaching or getting over-technical, there is still some scope for suggestions and reinforcements in terms of technique. Not saying that you don't have any technical input at the India A level, but it's definitely less.
I actually think we don't do that too much. The fact that you're seeing a Sehwag, a Dhoni and a Bumrah playing for India is testament to that. Even Sachin Tendulkar, for that matter, held the bat differently with his hands gripping the bottom of the handle. In India, even when kids come to the Under-19 level, I find that they represent a certain amount of uniqueness that is inherent in Indian cricket. They are players we haven't tampered with. Sometimes when I compare them to players from other countries, I feel that they have a lot more flair and natural ability. So, I actually think that coaches at the junior level, or most coaches I would say, don't necessarily mess with technique. And they shouldn't.
See, one only starts making changes when one feels the player isn't succeeding. If they're not scoring runs or taking wickets, then a coach has to intervene because it might cost them their place in the side. Other than that, the message that we try to send out is that a player's natural flair must be retained. We want something that's unique or different. I think that's what stands out. If people have a natural style that works, you don't want to be tampering with it too much. As long it produces results. Because at the end, you're judged by the results you produce.
The last one-and-a-half years have truly been an enjoyable experience. I think I've got to learn as much as anything else. I've got to see so many young talents in this country that have amazed me. Being a part of their journey has been very satisfying. However, even though you want them to succeed, you're always mindful of the fact that not all of them will get to represent the senior team. So, as long as they're here, you want to make sure that they have a good experience and learn something. And if you can do that, I guess there's not much more you can ask for.
India have been playing some very good cricket, but let's not forget that Australia is a very good side as well. They come well prepared and are always competitive. And while they have struggled recently in the subcontinental conditions, they do have some good players, many of whom have experience of the Indian conditions after playing in the IPL. You would write them off at your own peril. Having said that, I think India should be confident as they have been playing consistently well. But then again, that is the caveat. They've still got to play well and put in those performances. They've got to find batsmen and bowlers who can score big runs and take 20 wickets. They've found that over the last year. If they play with the intensity with which they played against England, then they'll hopefully find the right results.
Virat's been exceptional and done a really good job in the short time that he has spent as a captain. He's got to keep learning and getting better. It's not easy to take over from MS after the records and standards he had set. So we've got to be patient with Virat and judge him over time. As is the case with all the captains, Virat has got to keep learning along the way as well. And if his cricket and batting is anything to go by, then we know he's a fast learner.
He's constantly improving his range of shots and looking to get better. If he ever gets stuck in any situation, in any format, he manages to get better and find a way out. He's a good judge of what he needs to do to succeed at the highest level in all three formats of the game. And I think he brings a certain sense of desire. You can see that he has the desire to succeed in every single game that he plays. I think that's a good starting point.
Anil and the rest of the support staff have done a really good job. They have managed to create the right environment that allows the team to play the brand of cricket that it has been playing. It's been nice to see a home season after such a long time, and it's wonderful that the boys have done so well. I think there's been a lot of public interest around Indian cricket because of the home season this time. So again, I guess the credit goes to Anil and the entire support staff for creating an environment that has enabled such good cricket.
Obviously, the team would like to do well overseas but we'll deal with overseas tours when we get there. I think we shouldn't think too much about that when we have a team like Australia coming over. We should keep our focus on the Aussies for now because they're a very good side. We can't afford to look too far ahead. Sure, at the back of our minds we all want the Indian team to do well while touring, but for the next couple of months, we need to focus on winning at home.
My children are 11 and seven. They enjoy playing cricket, soccer and several other sports. It's too early for me, or them, to contemplate careers in sporting fields. They're too young for that right now. So when the time comes, they can make a career in anything that they want. The choice will be theirs. I'm definitely not going to force them to do anything.
I have no set plans. I just want to see where it goes and take it forward from there.