THE ROAD AHEAD
Cricbuzz Staff •
“There were another 10 players who could have also played a part if given a chance, but we could pick only 15 in the team.” – Prasad © Getty
It has been 10 days since India won the ICC Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand. Celebrations continue for some of the players, while a few others are soaking in much-deserved attention, getting into the act in the ongoing Vijay Hazare Trophy. But for the junior selection committee, headed by Venkatesh Prasad, it’s work as usual. The former India pacer has been busy spotting talent at age-group matches in Nagpur and Kanpur.
The 48-year-old, who has also coached an India U-19 team to the final in 2006, said the World Cup-winning players are a work in progress.
Excerpts from an interview:
You travelled the length and breadth of the country scouting for players, how does it feel when the efforts have resulted in such a big a win?
It is satisfying yes, but otherwise I don’t know. As chairman of selectors, I didn’t go for the 2016 or 2018 World Cups. What is important is to ensure you identify the right set of players, who work with honesty and dedication. That’s what I wanted to do. Even if we had lost, I would have been ok because I believe we have put together the best team. Of course, there were another 10 players who could have also played a part if given a chance, but we could pick only 15 in the team.
What were the challenges for the selectors?
The challenges are huge, in junior cricket no one player plays for a long period of time. The team combinations keep changing because there is a lot of emphasis placed on results from coaches and the state associations. It’s quite a nightmare actually, keeping tab. Also with the three-member committee – Gyanendra Pandey, Rakesh Parikh and I – travelling the length and breadth of the country, watching as many tournaments as possible in varying conditions, it is extremely challenging. That said, we enjoyed it.
What was the process you followed for selections?
We had a certain thought process. The best players, not merely skill wise, but also with fielding ability and attitude, were observed. Credit is due to the junior cricket structure in India, especially for U-19. Thanks to this we could watch players in tournaments like the Challengers, inter-state and then inter-zonal competitions.
Do you think there is room for improvement in the structure?
There is a need to improve in the U-16 and U-23 structures. I’ve suggested changes. Change is important. For example, two years after I put forward the suggestion, U-19 cricket was played in coloured clothing and with a white ball in India. Normally they would play in white clothing and red ball, but that does not work. It makes it easier for them to play in the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) tournaments and U-19 tournaments. You should not be found wanting on these counts. In fact, a few of the players, who played the 2016 U-19 World Cup in Bangladesh, said since they were new to coloured clothing and white ball, it took them some time to adjust.
You said you don’t attach too much importance to results. Why?
It is the process which is important and everything cannot be measured on the outcome. So, one of the reasons we won the World Cup is because our players were exposed to various conditions. Rahul (Dravid) has also suggested a lot of tours for the India A team as well. I believe that’s the way forward. Also, you can’t really judge a player based on his performance in Indian conditions alone because we know our conditions well. Also, I feel the U-19 tournaments should be played on seaming tracks because it prepares you for bigger challenges. I wouldn’t say, since you are going to South Africa next month, let’s play Duleep Trophy on seaming tracks. It doesn’t work like that. It should be built into a system. When you do that at a junior level, then you pretty much prepare them from a young age.
How crucial was exposure tours for the team in the run-up to the World Cup?
It was very important. Rahul and I put a lot of time and effort into how to build this team, in terms of how to get the players get used to the conditions; the process of building confidence and helping them get used to playing at different venues. We put together a roadmap in which we wanted them to travel to places like South Africa, Australia and England, where they would get used to playing in different conditions and on seaming tracks. It did help them, especially when they went to England late last year and won the series there.
From a selection committee point of view, we trained over 40 players and rotated them. Every single player among them deserved to showcase their skill. We gave them opportunities and kept their hopes and dreams alive. We wanted them to believe the truth, which was, they were good and they had a bright future ahead.
Did Dravid and you have arguments and difference of opinions?
Of course we did. We didn’t agree on everything. He had his views and vice versa. We had a lot of discussions and both of us knew we were talking and debating for the greater good of the game. We also respected each other’s point of view.
How do you rate the performances of pacers Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti in the World Cup?
It came as a surprise that they were bowling at that speed (140km/hr). That said, they are extremely athletic and very good fielders as well. They did generate some pace, but I’m not entirely sure we could peg it in the 140 range. Having said that, their performance augers well for Indian cricket. They have a lot of scope for improvement, especially in their line and length. It is important to ensure the progression is monitored well. Not just go overboard and hype pace and straightaway push them to a higher level. It is very crucial to understand their mental make-up and assess if they can cope with the pressure at the higher level.
What do you think is the future of these players?
It is important for associations to recognize the players’ talent and take them to the next level. When the national selection committee has identified them as future cricketers, the associations need to take the cue and understand how they fit into their team’s scheme of things. Whether they go to the U-23 teams or the senior state squad, should also be factored in.