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Under-19 World Cup: Challenges are only just beginning, says form Indian skipper Rahul Dravid

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Under-19 World Cup: Challenges are only just beginning, says form Indian skipper Rahul Dravid

The triumphant India U-19 team returned home on Monday, bathed in glory. Euphoria engulfed them before they headed to a press conference. Then Rahul Dravid, the head coach of the team and the biggest sobering influence on the boys, called for a reality check. He had prepared his team as only he could have – with his famous attention to detail. Before the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand, Rahul Dravid held a camp in Bangalore where he ensured the wickets were prepared to closely resemble those they would encounter in New Zealand.

Dravid then ensured that his team left a good fortnight in advance to get as familiar to the conditions as possible. The whole exercise cost the Board a cool Rs 4-crore 67-lakhs, but the India Under-19 coach knew the worth of his efforts was much more.Once in New Zealand then, his boys played flawless cricket from Ball One to sail into the semifinals of the World Cup. Ahead of the big game against Pakistan, however, Dravid was stressed more about one thing more than the opposition. India thumped Australia by eight wickets in the final on Saturday to win the U-19 World Cup for an unprecedented fourth time. But in the grand scheme of things, as Dravid observed, the real victory would be achieved if several members of this team go on to become senior India players or have a successful first-class career.

Once in New Zealand then, his boys played flawless cricket from Ball One to sail into the semifinals of the World Cup. Ahead of the big game against Pakistan, however, Dravid was stressed more about one thing more than the opposition.

Dravid rewound to 2012, when India and Australia had met in the final at Townsville, Queensland, with India winning by six wickets. “The challenge and the hard work really starts from here; we had a couple of conversations on it. When we were there (New Zealand) they showed a rerun of the 2012 final and I started checking upon a few things. It is interesting; the result of the final is India beat Australia but six years down the line only one of those boys has played for India while five-six of them went on to play for Australia. Six years down the line, the debatable point is that who won that final,” the coach put things in perspective.

Dravid believes in the current crop of the India U-19s, talent and ability-wise. But as Prithvi Shaw and company will now move into the man’s world, a lot will depend on fulfilling the potential and dealing with pressure. “Talent is there, ability is there, it’s about managing themselves, how to deal with pressure and the expectations that will come as U-19 champions. The hard work begins for them, begins for us too. It’s not easy to get into the Indian side. At least, if they become good first-class cricketers, from then on it becomes a stepping stone to play for India,” the head coach said.

Two brightest prospects in this team, Shubman Gill and Kamlesh Nagarkoti, are still 18 years old. Gill’s batting, his Man of the Tournament performance, evoked admiration even from former greats. Nagarkoti inspired awe, hurling 145kph thunderbolts. The two are still eligible to play age-group cricket at least for one more year, as are some other players in the World Cup-winning squad. All-rounder Riyan Parag is just 16 years old. But Dravid wants them to move over to the senior level.

“My view is quite well known. I feel that once the boys are good enough, they should go on to play men’s cricket, especially those who had played first-class cricket. We have seen from the last year’s (2016) bunch five boys from that World Cup qualified to play this time. But we made a conscious decision not to pick them for this World Cup as I felt it will be better for them to play U-23 cricket and senior men’s cricket. I’m not sure if it’s the best (option) for the boys or Indian cricket if some of them go on to play in next U-19 World Cup.”

The 2018 IPL auction took place on January 27 and 28, when the boys were preparing for their World Cup matches. “That week during the IPL auction was a bit stressful. But credit to the boys, once that was done, they came back to practice and switched on. Only those three days I was a bit worried. We had some loose curfews, sometimes they followed it. What impressed me was the level of maturity they showed in the age of social media, most of which I am not even aware of.”

Dravid was glad that his team got an early taste of what an India-Pakistan game was all about. “I did not treat the Pakistan match as different, we did not focus on the opposition, the preparation and the planning did not change. The process and planning was the same. The boys knew that many people watch it. We played two Asia Cups, but we did not play Pakistan. I am happy that they got to know what an India-Pakistan game is about, at the Under 19 level. The way our boys handled that game, the quality of cricket that we played, the intensity that we showed was commendable and we did not give them a chance to come back,” he said.

Dravid had later walked up to the Pakistan camp to meet ‘that impressive fast bowler’ shaheen Afridi after his team beat the arch-rivals by 203 runs. “They told me that they were in awe of the brand of cricket we were playing,” revealed the proud coach. Yet, Dravid was candidly admitted that his side didn’t play it’s ‘A’ game in the final, but still got through. “We did not play our No. 1 one game in the final — that we played in the quarterfinal (v Bangladesh) and semifinal (versus Pakistan). Just the fact that they played the finals was an experience,” said the former India captain after the victorious team’s arrival here from New Zealand.

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