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Rahul Dravid played a big role in mentoring youngsters: Devang Gandhi

India owe their bench strength to former captain

Indranil Majumdar Calcutta Published 05.04.21, 01:38 AM
Rahul Dravid (left) and Devang Gandhi

Rahul Dravid (left) and Devang Gandhi Telegraph picture

Indian cricket’s just-concluded season was not just about the youngsters’ smooth transition to the international circuit, it was also about how the support staff worked behind the scenes silently to make them successful.

It culminated through years of hard work, the seeds of which were planted when the MSK Prasad-led selection committee took charge in 2016. The five wise men were determined to build a pool of players who could cater to the growing demands of different formats. They found an able ally in Rahul Dravid, who was then the U-19 and ‘A’ team coach.


Team India were thus handed players who had gone through the grind and had knowledge of how to excel in overseas conditions. It was not that the likes of Ravi Shastri and Bharat Arun had to tutor the rudiments of the game to a Mohammed Siraj or a Rishabh Pant or a Shardul Thakur or a Shubman Gill. By the time they reached the highest grade, they were finished products, who only needed to be provided the opportunity.

Take Mayank Agarwal’s case in 2018. The opener had been on the fringes for one of the longest periods in Indian cricket history before the big break arrived during the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. He hadn’t been picked in the original squad but was flown in as a replacement after a fruitful ‘A’ tour to New Zealand. Tonnes of runs in the domestic circuit proved to be inconsequential which left him shattered.

Dravid, the India A coach, played a key role in keeping his spirits high in New Zealand. “Mayank was dejected but Rahul ensured he stayed focused. Rahul’s message was simple: There are certain things that are not in your control. You have to keep doing what you do best.

“If you get dejected and let it impact you, then you are looking down the barrel. At some stage you will get an opportunity and that is the time you will have to deliver... And he actually did that with scores of 76 and 42 on debut,” recalled Devang Gandhi, the former India opener who was on that tour as national selector, during a chat with The Telegraph.

Besides Devang, Prasad’s committee included Sarandeep Singh, Jatin Paranjpe and Gagan Khoda. With a cumulative experience of playing only 44 international matches, they encountered a lot of criticism but were keen to prove their worth.

“The process started four-and-a-half years back. When we got together, our intention was to create bench strength. Later Rahul came on board... So we had lot of discussions and deliberations on how we can do it best and also subsequently if we can create a larger pool of players to choose from,” Devang explained.

“During those years, we had about eight India ‘A’ tours — South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, England — and the whole objective of such tours was to give the back-up players an opportunity to play against good oppositions in overseas conditions. There were instances where we had some of the current England players playing against us... Alastair Cook, Chris Woakes for example. In New Zealand, we had some bowlers who would bowl around 145kmph.

“While ‘A’ tours were the finishing school, IPL gives them the platform to rub shoulders with some of the best in the world. What the ‘A’ tours did was prepare the players for Test cricket.”

Dravid and his support staff’s presence, which included bowling coach Paras Mhambrey, had an enormous impact on the players.

“Rahul was very clear from the outset that he will help in coaching only. Since he didn’t watch any domestic cricket, he wanted us to pick the boys... He was not intrusive. His objective was not only to win but to create bench strength and make the transition smoother for the boys. He had a big role in mentoring the youngsters.

“Once you reach a certain stage, especially at the international level, you can only tweak a little bit of your game technically... it’s more about fine-tuning the mind.

“Rahul’s methods were pretty simple and no rocket science was involved. He knew how to handle a Prithvi Shaw or a Shreyas Iyer or a Pant. He even dealt with Hardik Pandya and look how he has matured over a period of time.

“Now we are spoilt for choice. That was the whole endeavour so that injuries don’t have an impact. It’s a reflection of whatever hard work was put in those four-and-a-half years.”

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