Former India player Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Coach of the India Under-19 team is gung-ho about his team’s splendid win in the ICC Under-19 World Cup in the West Indies, but he is practical too giving his insights about the way forward for the players. It’s one step at a time, Kanitkar says in the course of a long conversation with News18.com
It’s been few days after the fine victory in the final against England at Antigua. How does it feel like becoming the coach of a team which has won the Under-19 World Cup which is an ICC event?
It’s a good feeling, a rewarding feeling in terms of seeing that difference in the way the boys played, since we began preparing for the big event. There has been a gradual improvement. But as a coach, the most rewarding is to know the fact that you’ve made some kind of positive impact on the players, which is not just necessarily cricketing, but generally as personalities, as characters. So I think that feels really good. I felt the same the last time, though we didn’t win the final. But when you look at the joy on the faces of these young cricketers, it’s a different feeling.
Also Read: From Talent Scouting, Selection Trials and Mock Auctions – How Franchise Identify and Spend Big Bucks on Unknown Players
You don’t see that maybe when you look at professionals, because they’ve gone through a lot of things, and they’re more mature. But in these boys, you can feel that difference; that you can see in the joy that they have. And that is very satisfying that you could impact them positively.
You were also an Under-19 cricketer. How much has the mind set or thinking of an Under-19 cricketer changed from the time you played in the same age group? The exposure to the team is much more, they pick a lot from seeing the top players in action on television, so what’s been the fundamental change in the junior player, skill-wise, and all put together?
I played Under -19 in the 1993 to 94 seasons. And so there is a huge difference. There’s a massive difference. Exposure to these cricketers is a lot more even before they make it to the Under- 19 India team. Their games are being followed and there is this social media going on, and they are used to all these things from a very young age. These things were not there when I played the Under-19. But the good thing that has not changed is that we both wanted to play for India. That remains a primary goal. Every cricketer had this sense at that time. This has not changed. They definitely want to play the IPL and do well, but their goal is to play for India. And that is very refreshing to know, because I’ve been with Ranji Trophy teams, and many of those cricketers, who were not 19 and had passed that stage, were trying to get into the IPL more than playing for India. But with these Under- 19 guys, their aim is still to play for India. But the attitudes have changed; they are more aggressive in the context of approaching a game, they’re more willing to play their shots and back their game.
“We were, for want of a better word, more tentative. We were feeling our way into it. These guys just barge into it. They want to make a path of their own. We wanted to get to learn how things work and learn from people. These guys are like believing “this is my game, and I’m going to trust it.’’ But the goals remain the same.
There are a lot more you have seen in the Under-19 group. What did you make of them having been coached well from the grassroots and further?
I don’t know if they are all coached well or not, but yes they needed to refine their game. They have a certain game, and they’ve continued playing that game, and have been effective in scoring runs. So that’s how they come to us. Few of them are technically sounder than the others. But there are things which they will work on in the future, if they do NCA camps or stuff like that. There are things which the coaches will work on with them in terms of technique, that’s for sure. They need a bit of work in those departments to play for longer and for many more years.
These boys also play the Cooch Behar, which is a multi-day tournament conducted by the BCCI?
I think it’s imperative to play the Cooch Behar. At this age, definitely it’s a huge aspect of their development. If they don’t play the Cooch Behar they will be missing out. They won’t be complete cricketers unless they play the red ball cricket and go through all the ups and downs that that type of cricket brings.
So what do you look for when you see them first? How long does it take for you as a coach to assess and evaluate the Under-19 cricketers?
The first thing that I would look at is their fundamentals, how close they are to sound techniques and stuff like that; only because when they have their bad days, this is going to help them, the technique will help them and on their good days, they’re good enough to score against any opposition and on any surface.
But if they have a few bad games, then how do they come back into form? So from that angle, I’ll definitely look at techniques, that is one, but a big thing with me is the balance while they’re batting and find out if it’s good. How are their hands? Are they just going hard at the ball? Or can they play it softly as well, the control part of it. So balance, control, general discipline, in terms of how they approach the game. And that is not only on the field, but how they do their pre-match, how they prepare for a game off the field, all those things. So I would be looking at all those things.
Would you also find out if they have had the benefit of turf and also matting pitches? And also playing multi-day competitions at the local level?
We generally ask them from where they’ve been playing and stuff like that, but most of them have grown on turf pitches. I don’t think so about multi-day at the local level; there could be in some cities, but not in many. Definitely it will help if local associations can have tournaments that are multi-day; two or three day tournaments will make a massive difference in the players experiencing that type of cricket. Obviously three-day and four-day needs you to have a lot more than one day. I certainly would advise or say that it would be great to see that multi-day cricket grows at the Under-19 and maybe even Under-16 level.
Would you also go to the extent of telling VVS Laxman (Head, NCA) that the juniors should not be playing Twenty20 for a while?
The thing with the NCA is that it can control what all is possible for it, which are the camps and the tournament’s that it is involved in; like after the Under1-9 there are the zonal camps. All those things they could affect, but I’m sure and I think Laxman and Rahul (Dravid), and even the selectors have advised the BCCI to have red ball cricket for the Under-19s. One cannot advise the State associations because they’re completely autonomous. So that wouldn’t really work. But I think the BCCI has been advised by these people that we have to have a lot of red ball cricket for these boys.
Obviously players like Yash Dhull, Vicky Ostwal, Shaik Rasheed and the three seamers have earned brownie points by their performance in the World Cup?
Yeah, yeah. They have. They have worked hard for it. It’s not been easy for them. Also, there’s been many challenges at their age. They know the matches are going to be shown live. They know a lot of people are going to be watching. There’s the IPL auction. So it’s the nerves, which is a natural thing for anybody. So dealing all those things at this age, where you can’t rationalise each and everything is really tough. And that, they have done really well. And the good part was that when we asked them, if these things were affecting them or what they’re thinking about it, they’re pretty open to discuss whatever they’re feeling so we would help them as well.
Laxman was in the West Indies with the team. He must have been very proactive?
Laxman was there in the capacity of Head, NCA. He was helpful. He shared with me and Sairaj (Bahutule, bowling coach) about what his take was on things and what we could do as coaches. But the good part was that after sharing his thoughts, he just left us alone to decide. So even though my boss was there, I was the head coach, and it was my decision what to do about everything, about everything.
Rahul (Dravid) had the same way of functioning. Being a great batsman himself and a coach, he (Dravid) still gave us the space to do what we wanted to do. And obviously if we needed advice, he was always there and with Laxman, it has been the same way. The first thing he said was: “This is your team, you are running it, you decide whatever and wherever you want my help, I am there always.’` He did a lot of throw downs with the sidearm — me and him in the nets and stuff like that — and it was amazing that he was just there to help us, and he did it right. So it was very good
So the World must have changed a lot for this team, winning the World Cup? Yash Dhull and many others were unknown a few days ago. But they are now headlines?
They were obviously extremely happy and overjoyed winning the cup, it was a big thing for them. Also, a lot of them had seen the previous World Cup and the final and stuff. And they had a lot of those memories. And after winning, there was that emotion also that those guys (unfortunately) couldn’t win, but we have done it now and that the job is done now. These boys were really looking forward to setting things right. And I think they really were enjoying each other’s company at the end of it after the final. Winning was one thing, but they were really enjoying what they had. And it was a special group. They got along very well with each other. And I think they were really having a good time.
There is a big gap between Under-19 and the Ranji Trophy. Even Virat Kohli felt the same after he won the Under-19 World Cup in KL in 2008? Is the current lot appear to be close to bridging the gap?
I don’t think the gap has been bridged as such, because nothing has changed in that department. But what I feel is these guys are much more mature than what I was. So, mind set-wise, they are able to grasp what they need to do. Maybe quicker than we did. They have more opportunities because they have more exposure. So if somebody gets into the IPL, he knows that he’s got the opportunities.
While for us there was one road to go to the top; that was the Under-19, Ranji, Duleep, Irani tournaments and potentially a game or two against visiting teams. But now there are different ways of getting to the top. And that’s why they’re a lot more mature, more confident, but they will need to do well in the Ranji Trophy; it’s a big step-up. I still believe it’s a big step-up because you’re playing against oppositions and even with players who have been there done it for like 10, 12 or maybe even 17 years. So one thing is having the confidence, being brash and trusting yourself, but you still have to go through that grind. The good players will do the right things.
Around year 2000, the Under-19 was seen as a big springboard to the national team. Can it be seen that way in 2022? Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Laxman and all spent a lot of years in first class cricket. Maybe Sachin Tendulkar was an exception, although he did play all the BCCI tournaments?
I don’t know if anyone can look at it that way. They can though, but they, I am guessing they would still want the boys to perform more at the first class level and other BCCI tournaments. I think we should leave that name (Tendulkar) out of the discussions. Normal rules didn’t apply to him. He was a special talent. But throughout his career, his dedication to his practice, preparation never changed. He was gifted.
If you saw him practising, and you saw his commitment, you wouldn’t think that he thinks he is gifted? He has scored 100 international centuries for India. He has the celebrity status, adulated. But you meet him, and you realise that you don’t see all those things, he is just a normal person. That’s what we tell these guys that you have somebody to look at like Sachin, who’s had success but who’s worked so hard for it.
He got into the team at 16 and was not dropped! He wasn’t a flash in the pan to happen at that age. It’s so easy to happen. So that’s one thing we tell them that this is like the under 19 World Cup. You have one great event; it’s a stepping stone. That’s all it is. It’s a station in your whole long journey of cricket. It’s one station that you have come to and there are many more to come. So don’t look too far ahead. Take it one step at a time and achieve one step, then go to the next
Special: Get the Live-Updating IPL 2022 Auction Tally | IPL Mega Auction Live Updates and Cricket Score here